Celebrated annually and globally on March 8, International Women’s Day (IWD) is a day to recognise and praise the incredible achievements, acts of courage, and determination of women around the world.
To commemorate International Women’s Day 2022, part of this year’s theme is to #BreakTheBias, encouraging a world without bias, stereotypes, and discrimination, but one that is diverse, equitable and inclusive for all women.
Bias, stereotypes and inclusivity in sports have long been a painful thorn in the side of many female athletes. While historically sports have been a domain exclusive to males, many female athletes, both in the past and the present, have not conformed to the pressures of traditional feminine stereotypes.
Rather than abandoning sports entirely, they have got the ball rolling for female recognition and empowerment in the sporting world.
Whether it is impressive athletic abilities or achievements, the fight for equal pay and rights, or overcoming male-dominated sports, sportswomen are teaching women and girls the value of teamwork, self-reliance, and resilience.
In no particular order, the following (modest) list of exemplary female athletes and personalities are notable for flexing their strength and changing the ball game for women and sports.
The Inner Sanctum hopes that in reading this (subjectively, of course), you will learn about some of the most influential female trailblazers who have and continue to pave the way for other athletes and women everywhere.
Billie Jean King
With 39 Grand Slam titles under her belt, Billie Jean King is one of the greatest tennis players of all time. While the American has been exceedingly successful on the court, her accomplishments go far beyond the tennis court.
Recognising the inequality of pay between men and women, King leveraged her status to advocate for gender equality in professional tennis as well as fighting for women’s rights and the LGBTIQA+ community. Perhaps one of the most significant roles in pioneering equality and recognition for women in tennis was the 1973 “Battle of the Sexes” match between Billie Jean King and former world number one Bobby Riggs.
It was a triumphant event for King and other female tennis players when she defeated Riggs 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.
Blind from birth, American swimmer Trischa Zorn is the most decorated Paralympian, claiming 55 Paralympic medals to her name. Zorn made quite the splash at her Paralympic debut at the 1980 Arnhem Games, winning seven gold medals and breaking three world records.
While Zorn is known for her impressive athletic abilities in the pool, outside the pool, she is a hero to those living with a disability, swimming beyond her physical barriers.
Possibly one of the most iconic moments in Olympic and sporting history was the sight of Indigenous Australian athlete Cathy Freeman running to claim her gold during the 400m at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games in the now-famous green and yellow one-piece suit.
Freeman’s performance at the Sydney Olympics held much symbolic power, becoming the first Aboriginal athlete to win gold for Australia. Her success as an athlete has significantly influenced the Aboriginal community, especially the younger generation.
On and off the court, the 23 Grand Slam champion is a force to be reckoned with. Whether she is battling a rival on the court or overcoming sexists and racial remarks from the media, Williams has carried an immense responsibility on her shoulders for other women.
It is a duty she has carried with grace, courage and resilience. She has fought for gender pay gap equality and sparked a change in conversations about juggling motherhood and a professional tennis career. Williams is a constant reminder to other women and young girls that they can achieve anything through sheer determination and fierceness.
Standing at a mere 1.42m, American gymnast Simone Biles may be small in stature, but her dominance is unrivalled. With 32 World Championship and Olympic medals, Biles is the most decorated American gymnast.
But she has carried much more than the weight of her medals. The four-time Olympic gold medal champion rocked the sports world when she withdrew from events at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games because of mental health issues. Her actions sparked more than just media conversation. It was an act of courage—demonstrating the importance of staying true to one’s self and prioritising mental health and well-being.
As well as prioritising her mental health, Biles has used her voice to champion survivors and victims to advocate against sexual abuse.
The influence these women have had in the sporting world has significantly changed sports, but there is still work that needs to be done. International Women’s Day will remain an opportunity to celebrate some of the most influential women in sports, role models who use their status to create a more inclusive and respected environment for all women.
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