Relevance of gender in the policy area

The term ‘sport’ implies two different perspectives that are increasingly considered at EU level: professional sport, and sport as a leisure activity. While, in professional sport, athletes receive annual salaries plus incentives tied to individual and team performance, amateur athletes are not paid for their athletic performances. In addition to amateurs, an increasing number of women and men are choosing sport as a leisure activity, mainly for recreation and health benefits.

In both cases, sport represents a large and fast-growing sector of the economy and makes an important contribution to growth and jobs. This is particularly true of professional sport, where economic aspects play an important role. However, it is also true of the sport and leisure industry, which covers a wide range of areas such as sport and recreation, health and fitness, outdoor pursuits and gaming.

Traditionally, sport has been dominated by men, both in terms of participation and governance. Worldwide, women’s participation rates in sporting activities are lower than men’s. Yet over the last 20 years significant changes have occurred and the difference in involvement between the genders is becoming narrower.

From a gender perspective, sport exemplifies a societal and cultural process in which the social construction of femininity and masculinity plays a key role in influencing behaviours and approaches.

Sport is traditionally associated with ‘masculine’ characteristics, such as physical strength and resilience, speed and a highly competitive, sometimes confrontational spirit. In many societies, women who engage in sports are perceived as ‘masculine’, while men who are not interested in sports are considered ‘unmanly’.

However, sport can also be used as a means to achieve gender equality through the establishment of general values such as fair play, non-discrimination and teamwork. It can also be used to increase opportunities for girls, if local contexts and gender relations are taken into account and addressed. Sport can give women and girls access to public spaces where they can gather, develop new skills, gain support from others and enjoy freedom of expression and movement. It can promote education, communication, negotiation skills and leadership, all of which are essential to women’s empowerment. Sport can also increase women’s and girls’ self-esteem and enable them to make choices about their lives. Moreover, sport can provide a channel to inform girls and women about reproductive health and other health issues.

Nevertheless, a number of practical barriers to women’s participation in sport still exist.

Gender inequalities are evident across the sports sector, from representation at decision-making levels and media coverage, to participation in sports activities including coaching. Women may also face a general lack of safe and appropriate sports facilities, potentially exposing them to physical and/or verbal sexual harassment and assault. They may also experience additional physical constraints, lack of time and/or lack of childcare facilities.

Establishing gender equality in sports policy will involve action in the following areas:

  • increasing women’s participation in sports activities
  • attaining equal representation and gender sensitivity in decision-making
  • achieving gender equality in sports coaching and teaching
  • eradicating gender-based violence in and through sport
  • eliminating gender stereotypes in sport and in media coverage of sport.

Gender inequalities in the policy area - Main issues 

Existing policy objectives at EU and international level

Policy cycle in sport

Click on a phase for details

How and when? Sport and the integration of the gender dimension into the policy cycle

The gender dimension can be integrated in all phases of the policy cycle. For a detailed description of how gender can be mainstreamed in each phase of the policy cycle click here.

Below, you can find useful resources and practical examples for mainstreaming gender into sport policies. They are organised according to the most relevant phase of the policy cycle they may serve.

Practical examples of gender mainstreaming in sport


The key milestones of the EU policy sport are presented below.

Current policy priorities at EU level

Many of the competences in the area of sport lie with the Member States. However, at EU level there are three core policy areas: the integrity of sport, the economic dimension of sport, and sport in society. Within each area are ongoing and new priorities, all of which are at different stages of planning, activity and evaluation.

The integrity of sport

This policy area has an ongoing commitment to fight doping in sport and supports the Anti-Doping Convention as the international legal instrument, and the World Anti-Doping Agency. Match fixing and corruption in sport is viewed as a serious threat to the integrity of sport, and in March 2013 the European Parliament adopted a Resolution on these issues. The protection of minors is a key concern for the EU. This includes overtraining, missed education, doping and sexual abuse.

To support and encourage good governance, the EU has set out a series of principles for sporting bodies at local, national and European levels. The principles include the need for financial transparency, management expertise, stakeholder communications and ethical practices.

The economic dimension of sport

In the areas of sustainable financing, the legacy of major events and economic benefits the EU’s priority is to provide guidance on state aid, VAT and structural funds within a framework of sustainable finances. Priority is also given to guidance on commercial property rights and other mechanisms which can protect and encourage grass-roots sport.

Sport and society

Health-enhancing physical activity (HEPA) continues to be a policy priority for the EU. Sport has been identified as a sustainable economic sector which can positively contribute to the delivery of the EU’s Europe 2020 strategy through job creation. One priority is to develop guidelines on dual careers for athletes to prepare them for life after sport. Within society the value of volunteers to sport is critical, and raising awareness and rewarding and recognising volunteering remains an area for continued policy development.

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