In Canadian sports, women have shown time and again that they are a force to be reckoned with. Penny Oleksiak, a 23-year-old swimmer, was Canada’s youngest athlete to bring home an Olympic gold medal and is Canada’s most decorated swimmer of all time. Christine Sinclair holds the title for all-time leader in international soccer goals (yes, even more than Cristiano Ronaldo) and has led the Canadian women’s national soccer team in four Olympics appearances. Brooke Henderson has earned the most professional golf titles in Canadian golf history by bringing in 13 wins so far in her career. Clara Hughes, a dual sport athlete in cycling and speed skating, is the only athlete to have won medals in both the Summer and Winter Olympics. 

Women’s excellence in sports is evident, and the list of athletes and their notable achievements could go on forever. In both the professional and non-professional leagues, these women have proven that there is no limit to what you can achieve and have inspired millions of girls around the world to follow in their footsteps. Despite this, women are undervalued and underrepresented in sports.

One of the biggest issues that continues to affect female athletes is the pay gap. In 2022 and 2023, the Canadian women’s and men’s soccer teams played in the FIFA World Cup. Both teams exited the tournament early, but the men went home with $9 million and the women with $1.56 million. If you were to compare the total amount of money offered for both tournaments, women were making 25 cents for every dollar the men made, and the winning women’s team still made less than the last-place men’s team. This is a pressing problem that impacts athletes’ ability to support themselves and implies that women’s sports are not valued as highly as men’s.

U SPORTS, formerly known as Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS), is the national governing body of Canadian university sports which accounts for 56 universities, including UBC Okanagan. U SPORTS athletes are not compensated for their name, image, and likeness like athletes in the United States, so issues regarding pay are not as relevant. Still, gender issues in sports exist at this level and at UBCO, specifically regarding support and representation.

Seeing a diverse group of women playing sports and representing their institutions is extremely important because it communicates to other women that they too, can occupy such spaces. The same can be said for seeing women in leadership positions. Among UBCO’s basketball, volleyball, cross country, golf, and soccer teams, 25 men occupy leadership positions compared to nine women. While this could be due to a lack of interest, we still must question why women are not as interested in taking these roles to begin with. 

When it comes to supporting our female athletes, not even the fan attendance is equal. During the 2023-2024 soccer, basketball, and volleyball season, the men’s teams have gathered over 5,000 fans in attendance. On the women’s side, just under 4,800 fans have shown up. These numbers might not seem like a big deal, but if our women’s teams have performed better and accumulated significantly more wins than the men, why aren’t they receiving the same amount of support?

You read that right. Our women’s teams take the gold when it comes to achievements this season. They pulled off 30 wins compared to the men’s 13, have not placed below fourth in their golf season thus far, and have consistently placed in the top ten in cross country. And while none of our men’s teams made appearances in the Canada West playoffs, our women’s soccer, volleyball, and basketball teams made it to the quarter-finals, with the basketball team winning their first-ever Canada West playoff game.

To further highlight the strengths of our women athletes competing for the Heat, there were a few who made major moves this season. Tori Bouck, who runs for the cross country team, placed 14th at the U SPORTS Championship and was named a U SPORTS 2nd Team All-Canadian. In women’s volleyball, outside hitter Olivia Tymkiw had 19 kills to tie a UBCO record for the most kills in a three-set match in program history. Last but not least, soccer midfielder Stephanie Young was named a Canada West First Team All-Star and signed a professional contract with Treaty United in Ireland for the 2024 season.

As women continue to face many inequalities in sports, it is crucial that we increase our engagement and support for them. Our athletes continue to break records and set the bar higher every season, and while you may not be able to close the pay gap or figure out how to bring more women into coaching positions, you can show up for them, stay updated with their games, and celebrate their ongoing achievements.