By Andriana Guigova
There were a few hours left to game time and the cafeteria was filled with the echoes of girls advertising the first men’s volleyball playoff home game in 10 years.
Armed with clappers and led by Cristina Ribeiro, RyeSAC’s VP social life and events, the group went from table to table to inform the students of the greatness of the team.
While the men’s volleyball team managed to set attendance records this year, the women’s team would have gladly taken half their fans. With the end of their respectable seasons, female athletes were left to wonder why they couldn’t attract the same attention their male counterparts received.
“There’s more build up for men’s games,” said libero Anjela Wilson. “I can understand why they’re being showcased. But we have the same great players that can be showcased as well.”
Both athletes and coaches agree that the administration is not to blame for the difference in the attendance numbers, the only glaring exception being the absence of a women’s hockey team. “With women’s hockey growing as fast as it is, we could have a program in place in two years,” said Mick Mitrovic, the men’s hockey head coach. “It would only enhance Ryerson’s image to have a well-rounded program. There’s two of everything. And there should be.”
Both York University and the University of Toronto have men’s and women’s hockey teams. Graham Wise, the head coach of York’s men’s hockey team, encourages Ryerson to join the group. “I think there should be a move to get a women’s program,” Wise said. “What’s one of the fastest growing participation sports in Canada? It’s women’s hockey. Jump on it.”
Women involved at all levels of organized sport have been fighting for equality in funding and coverage. For Barb MacDonald, the communications consultant for the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport, equality stems from the media and public awareness.
“It starts right back at who is reading the newspaper,” MacDonald said. “Sports editors don’t perceive women as readers. A perfect example is right now.
“There are still three stories about hockey, even though it’s not being played. They’re missing marvelous opportunities to tell stories and attract a fan base.”
The problem of equal media coverage affects Ryerson athletes as well.
“The media is doing a good job of advertising men’s volleyball,” said Arif Nathoo, women’s volleyball head coach. “The men are more represented in the newspapers and they get more fans.”
Men’s volleyball’s Matt Fugard attended the University of British Columbia before transferring to Ryerson. He feels much of the attention the Ryerson team received was part of a bigger marketing scheme.
“Our team was supposed to win (Ontario’s championship) and produce a lot more than we actually did,” he said. “There were higher expectations and more hype. They were trying to market us to increase fan attendance.”
Some of the female athletes felt under-represented in the sports pages. “I think we can do anything as a team. People just don’t know about it,” said Brianne Konning of the women’s volleyball team.
She continued on to say that, in her opinion, a men’s loss would get the headline over a women’s win. In contrast, the women’s teams at UBC get more attention and more funding than the men’s team, according to Fugard.
“The women’s program is stronger than the men’s (at UBC),” he said. Helen Jefferson Lenskyj, a University of Toronto sociology professor and author of the recently released Out on the Field: Gender, Sport and Sexualities, believes equality will result only after a change in old attitudes.
“A taken for granted belief is that sports is what men do,” Lenskyj said. “When a headline says ‘Canada wins medal,’ the assumption is that it’s men’s, unless already specified that’s it’s women’s.”
Professor Lenskyj went on to say that sports reporters have a valid reason for their lack of coverage when they point out that they “can only cover what’s happening.”
Erin Gallagher of the women’s volleyball team agrees that the players have to earn the attention. “The team gets excited when we’re in the paper,” she said. “But it’s deserved press. If we have a good weekend and we’re in the paper, it’s great.” Success is the only thing that determines how much coverage a York team gets, said Hernan Humana, the head coach of York’s women’s volleyball team.
York eliminated both Rams volleyball teams from this season’s playoffs. “There has been studies on the amount of (newspaper) coverage,” Humana said. “It has been pretty even, though at times skewed by the success of one team.” Humana also recounts his impression of the university’s fan attendance when his team played against Ryerson’s women.
“I remember I went to watch a men’s game and there were far more fans watching men’s volleyball,” he said. “I don’t know why that was.” In Wilson’s opinion, more fans are attracted to men’s volleyball because of the powerful hitting the male physique allows. “Women’s volleyball has that stigma that it’s not the same calibre as men’s volleyball,” she said, adding that she prefers her team’s style of play.
“Our games are longer. Longer rallies to me are more exciting.”
Sports and Recreation is expanding programs and clubs towards getting students more involved in women’s sport so they can discover that excitement for themselves.
But professor Lenskyj feels that, in order to enhance female athletics, more profound changes are needed at an earlier stage of life. “(Improvement) starts at a pretty basic level in children’s sport,” Lenskyj said. “If we had more open, equitable programs for children, then it will trickle down into more confidence for women.”
Women’s basketball captain Lisa Greig said media, sports administration and everyone else involved have a responsibility towards those young children. “Everyone needs a role model,” she said.
“Who are little girls supposed to aspire to if they don’t see any female athletes that are equally represented?”