Montreal Gazette

McGill leading way as schools aim to raise funding for women’s hockey


One week before the final game was played in the now-defunct Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL), the country’s top university women’s hockey teams waged their own battle for a national championsh­ip. The Guelph Gryphons prevailed, shutting out the McGill Martlets 1-0 in Charlottet­own.

Each team featured all-star players and award-winning coaches, but their success runs deeper than the bench. In the fall, the Guelph and McGill announced new multi-million dollar initiative­s focused on gender equity and advancing women in sport.

Now, they are pioneering models that might change the game for the next generation of female athletes.

The timing is telling. The collapse of the CWHL came less than a year after the federal government announced a $30-million investment in an effort to achieve gender equity at all levels of sport.

And money is at the heart of the issue, according to a recent survey of women and sport leaders. Insufficie­nt funding was identified as the No. 1 barrier to female sport participat­ion in Canada.

The problem extends to universiti­es, where data show that men get the majority of athletic scholarshi­p support.

Research in the United States shows that male alumni donate more money — double, on average — to their college teams than women. American law mandates that educationa­l institutio­ns provide equal opportunit­ies and a proportion­al level of funding for each gender to participat­e in sports. In Canada, no such law exists.

“The majority of our most generous donors are males, and their interest by and large goes back to their sport,” said Marc Gelinas, executive director of McGill athletics.

In 2015, the Gryphons faced a similar issue: For every dollar donated to athletic scholarshi­ps for women, three dollars were donated to men. To combat this trend, Guelph hosted the first She’s Got Game gala in 2016. The annual fundraisin­g event is a year-round campaign to engage the community, implement equitable policies, and raise money for women and girls in sport.

“The dollars raised is great, but more so is the buy-in and the understand­ing and people wanting to be a part of this initiative,” said Guelph athletics director Scott McRoberts. “It speaks volumes.”

From partnershi­ps with a local pizza joint and coffee shop to support from Guelph-area high schools and police, “She’s Got Game” has galvanized the community. More than $900,000 has been raised toward the campaign’s $2.5-million goal, and there has been success on the playing field as well: Four Guelph women’s teams stood on the U Sports podium this season.

Next season, the Gryphons will offer at least one named scholarshi­p for each of their U Sports women’s teams — a first for the program. But they aren’t the only ones tackling the issue.

In 2018, McGill created the Kerr Family Women in Sport (WIS) Program after receiving $3.5 million from alumni Sheryl and David Kerr.

The donation will add $400,000 to their budget for female teams each year for the next decade, bringing the current distributi­on of sport-related funding to 54 per cent for men and 46 per cent for women.

Sylvie Beliveau, former head coach of the national women’s soccer team and founder of Egale Action, a Quebec-based organizati­on that supports girls and women in sport, oversees WIS.

“I have lived it, and I am delighted to be part of the paradigm shift,” said Beliveau.

WIS enabled the hiring of two full-time female assistant coaches for its women’s teams. A third hire is forthcomin­g.

Beliveau said WIS is focused on developing female leaders in and beyond sport.

“What we’re looking for is that every female student-athlete leaves the program a better leader than when they arrived,” she explained.

From community buy-in to donations from wealthy benefactor­s, the support that has made She’s Got Game and WIS successful may seem like a tall order. But plenty of smaller steps can make a difference.

“You don’t need any money to change your policy,” said Allison Sandmeyer-Graves, chief executive officer of the Canadian Associatio­n for the Advancemen­t of Women in Sport and Physical Activity.

University sports are housed within larger institutio­ns that permit access to resources, such as paid coaches and front-line research, that many organizati­ons lack. For this reason, Sandmeyer-Graves would like to see universiti­es “leverage their unique positions” to “enrich the sport landscape as a whole.”

Efforts to promote gender equity at Guelph and McGill have drawn attention from universiti­es and sport organizati­ons across the country.

“They’re a model for the types of initiative­s we’d like all of our members to consider and pursue,” said David Goldstein, chief operating officer for U Sports, the governing body for university sports in Canada.

U Sports promotes gender equity through policy, but does not set limits on how universiti­es allocate funding. — Veronica Allan is a post-doctoral fellow in the School of Kinesiolog­y and Health Science at York University and a graduate of the Munk Fellowship in Global Journalism.

 ?? IAN MACALPINE/POSTMEDIA FILES ?? The McGill Martlets, pictured in 2017, and the Guelph Gryphons have announced new multi-million dollar initiative­s focused on gender equity and advancing women in sport.
IAN MACALPINE/POSTMEDIA FILES The McGill Martlets, pictured in 2017, and the Guelph Gryphons have announced new multi-million dollar initiative­s focused on gender equity and advancing women in sport.

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