#HerGames: Rio 2016 a Tipping Point for Women’s Sport in Canada

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Bill Cooper

Run, do not walk, to watch TV this summer.

My ask of you is simple – if you have a daughter, niece, granddaughter, younger sister or frankly any young Canadian over whom you are a caregiver or influencer, please get them on a sofa to watch TV these next few weeks.

Sounds counter-intuitive right? It is summer and they should be out wading in streams, playing grounders and kicking a soccer ball around, under all widely accepted criteria. But this summer is different. This summer we are seeing history unfold as we watch a historic human miss-step have its inevitable correction massively accelerated by a group of exceptional women. And you wouldn’t want your kids to miss it.

Canadian women are proving on an epic scale that their stories, triumphs and defeats are just as compelling as those of men. Victory in the debate over men’s versus women’s sports has been declared and now we are simply waiting for the machinations of broadcast, sponsorship, marketing, event management and licensing to fully grasp that realization and play catch up on decades of inequality.

Some might say that I make a redundant point, that everybody knows we should watch and give equal support to women’s sport. But I would argue that the ‘should’ is gone. Millions of people are now watching and being inspired by women in sport. They are blown away by their feats of athleticism, team play and mental toughness. And this is not so because of a perceived obligation to correct a wrong or due to an effort to be politically correct. This is so because the content, drama and entertainment the women are creating is second to none. It is compelling, extraordinary and consistently inspiring. Consumers want to watch it.

Last year I went with my children to the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Vancouver to see several matches and I watched as my kids cheered on elite women athletes in a stadium together with 55,000 other impassioned fans. This is our youth’s new reality. In their eyes, minds and hearts women’s sport, when produced and presented on an appropriate level, is as compelling and exciting a source of entertainment as men’s sport.

That new reality is hugely significant. Especially when you compare it to the environment we grew up in with virtually no women’s events and when there were, certainly not produced and presented on a scale anywhere near comparable to men’s sport.

So we find ourselves at an interesting intersection where tomorrow’s audience is ready and primed to view and digest content equally, but the industry charged with delivering the product is nowhere near ready to deliver it equally. Availability of women’s events, frequency of broadcast, prominence of marketing, scale of prize money, funding, sponsorship and advertising around women’s sport all lag tremendously behind that for men’s sport. In fact the disproportion is staggering. In any other industry a crisis would be declared and measures enforced to correct the imbalance.

Fortunately with the product and audience already arrived and waiting at the finish line I am confident the industry will play catch up. But in order to expedite and assist in correcting the wrong I ask you not to rise up, but rather sit down. Sit down with your daughters and watch.

These women have persevered and risen to the top of their pursuit powered by passion, self-belief and the teams around them. They have fought through injuries, bullying, economic hardship, failure to make teams, defeat, self-doubt, social distractions, family tragedies and illness to name a few. And they have come out on the other end to find themselves on the world stage where after years of toiling in the shadows they are afforded a brief and enthralling moment in the spotlight.

Make no mistake. These Games are a milestone moment for Women’s Sport in Canada. Our female athletes and women’s teams are performing at an unprecedented level. We cannot and should not sit back casually assuming that it is the norm and that it can simply be watched ‘next time’.

This remarkable convergence of a social wrong being finally (albeit gradually) corrected and our Canadian women’s exceptional performance we have the opportunity to watch this summer is no coincidence. Their performance is driving the change. Our job and remarkable good fortune as consumers is that we get to watch and absorb the tales they are telling.

And these tales are a rare fuel. Our daughters can learn great things from these tales and apply them to everything from sport, to self, to community, to education, to profession, to passion. Do not deprive your daughters of this fuel. Let them watch it, absorb it and deploy it on the path to becoming a greater Canada.

Cheer on Team Canada this summer at #HerGames. #BecauseIts2016

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