Gender equality in Swedish sports – resources, representation and “real” sport

This report concerns issues of gender equality in Swedish sport, and is based on a Government assignment 2017 to the Swedish Research Council for Sport Science. The report shows that gender inequalities still persists in Swedish sport, despite long-established societal objectives to promote gender equality and despite a growing effort from within the sport movement itself to increase the share of women on all levels in sport.

The underlying basis to participate and influence decision-making in sport cannot be considered to be equal between genders. The latest available national statistics on sport shows that men are more likely to be members, coaches and part of club boards in a majority of local sport clubs as well as in national sport federations, compared to women. Men dominate on executive posts, on nomination committees and a large majority of international assignments are held by men.

Furthermore, sports for boys and young men receive a much larger share of the economic resources and state subsidies compared to sports for girls and young women: 61 versus 39 percent. Teenage girls and young women tend to abandon organized sport earlier than their male counterparts. Our data suggests that many young women move from organized sport to private and commercial alternatives in their late teenage years – alternatives that are without state subsidies.

Although there has been some progress in recent years to increase the share of women, the progress has been slow compared to the goal of a representation of at least 40 percent for both genders in deciding bodies in Swedish sport.

The report also shows that participation in, and organization of, sport in Sweden is influenced by traditional values and stereotypical gender norms, e.g., how boys and girls “are”, how men and women “should act and behave” and which sports are “appropriate” for boys and girls respectively. These values and norms are serious roadblocks to achieve gender equality in Swedish sport in the years ahead. Much work needs to be done to increase the number and share of girls and women in sport in general and in traditional male-dominated sports in particular.

Gender equality in sport is not only about fundamental democratic principles and human rights in a society. It is also a key stepping stone towards developing and improving sport itself – for reasons of individual health and well-being, public health, exercise and elite sport, among others.