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Barriers for women of colour in sport

girls playing football

Women of colour have faced, and continue to face, numerous barriers when it comes to participating in sport. Acknowledging these barriers and seeking ways to overcome these is important to achieve equality in sport, regardless of gender or race.

This post is excerpted from Women and Sport.


The Women’s Sports Foundation’s (WSF) 2003 report on female athletes of colour highlighted the presence of racial clustering in five sports (bowling, badminton, basketball and indoor and outdoor track). The inequitable representation of female athletes of colour in certain sports has been attributed to socialisation, inequitable education opportunities, and lack of role models at both the playing level and in athletic leadership positions. For example, approximately 14 percent of head coaches of women’s teams at all National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) divisions were women of colour.

The low representation of women of colour as role models and mentors has far-reaching consequences in terms of developing future female players and leaders.


Stereotypes are based on limited information and are often linked to prejudice and discrimination. Negative stereotypes can influence which sports women choose to participate in and can also inhibit and discourage girls and women from sport participation (Coackley, 2007; Csizma, Witting & Schurr, 1988). Stereotypes can affect how much funding schools and parents provide women (Sabo & Veliz, 2008; Women’s Sports Foundation, 2011), as well as how women (as athletes) are characterised and framed in the media (Cunningham, 2011).


Religion and gendered cultural norms and expectations inhibit girls and women from different racial and ethnic backgrounds from participating in sport. For example, in many Native American and Hispanic homes, cultural traditions dictate that girls help with family childcare responsibilities after school, thus limiting their opportunities to participate in after-school sport activities (Eyler et al., 1998; Sylvester, 2005). Furthermore, in many Asian countries such as China, Korea and Japan, Confucian beliefs of women’s inferiority to men have remained influential, resulting in limited female participation (Jinx, 2003, p.207).

Learn more in Women and Sport.

Ellen J. Staurowsky book cover

Adapted from:

Women and Sport

Ellen J. Staurowsky


  • Coackley, J. [2007] Sports in society: Issues and controversies (9th ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill
  • Csizma, K.A, Witting, A.F & Schurr, K.T (1988). Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 10, 62-74.
  • Cunningham, G.B (2011). Diversity in sport organisations (2nd ed.). Scottsdale, AZ: Holcomb Hathaway.
  • Eyler, A., Baker, E., Cromer, L., King, A., Brownson, R., & Donatelle, R. (1998). Physical activity and minority women: A qualitative study. Health Education Behaviour, 25, 640-652.
  • Jinx, D. (2003). Women, sport and society in modern China. London, England: Frank Cass.
  • Sabo, D., & Veliz, P. (2008). Go out and play: Youth sports in America. East Meadow, NY: Women’s Sports Foundation.
  • Sylvester, M. (2005, March 29). Hispanic girls in sports held back by tradition. USA Today, p. A1.
  • Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF). (2011) Foundation’s position on race and sport. East Meadow, NY: Author.

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