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Brock teams up with Biathlon Canada to improve gender equity in sport

MEDIA RELEASE: November 23 2023 – R0113

A collaboration between Biathlon Canada and Brock University is leading to impactful change in gender equity within the national sports organization (NSO).

Through Brock’s Centre for Sport Capacity, Assistant Professor of Sport Management Michele Donnelly has been working with Biathlon Canada to conduct a gender equity audit focused on all aspects of the organization, including its membership and governance.

The project is related to the federal government’s goal to achieve gender equity in Canadian sport by 2035. The government’s 2018 budget allocated funds to Sport Canada to support gender equity projects, which filtered down to NSOs such as Biathlon Canada.

“Decisions are being made and policies and practices are being implemented, but a lot of organizations don’t have baseline data, so they can’t accurately or effectively assess whether or not their efforts are affecting positive change,” said Donnelly. “Biathlon Canada is truly a leader in this space; I am not aware of any other NSOs that have undertaken a gender audit in this form.”

Biathlon Canada CEO Heather Ambery said it was important to her and others to hire a third party to examine the organization with a “gentle yet critical lens.”

“We wanted a professional with expertise in analyzing data and a deep knowledge of gender equity in sport to help us evaluate if we’re doing a good job in this space and to offer recommendations for what we can do better,” she said.

By analyzing nine years of Biathlon Canada’s membership data, which includes athletes, officials, coaches and volunteers from provincial and territorial clubs, Donnelly identified trends and Biathlon Canada’s starting point for measuring future success.

According to her assessment, Biathlon Canada’s athletes have consistently been 40 per cent women across all age groups.

“That is quite strong for a NSO and is reflective of an organization that has made some real commitments to increasing women’s participation,” she said.

Donnelly supplemented the quantitative data with interviews with athletes, officials and coaches about their experiences with biathlon and their understanding of Biathlon Canada’s commitment to gender equity. She also reviewed the organization’s website and policies.

She has since made several evidence-based recommendations to Biathlon Canada, which have already led to improvements in gender equity. One recommendation was to formalize quotas for gender representation on the Board of Directors.

“Studies have shown gender equity commitments are more successful when institutionalized into policy,” said Donnelly. “A policy means that progress toward gender equity is more intentional and conscious.”

Prior to the audit, Biathlon Canada’s board was comprised of about 35 per cent women. Now, women make up 60 per cent.

“Our members unanimously voted on a policy change that states no more than 60 per cent of one gender identity can make up the board composition,” said Ambery.

Biathlon Canada is also focused on changing the public-facing perception of women in biathlon. More than a dozen new profiles on women athletes, coaches, officials, volunteers and fans share how and why they got involved with biathlon, and new photography challenges gender stereotypes.

“We often see photos of men exhibiting strength and endurance, while women are hugging each other or patting each other on the back,” said Ambery. “We want to intentionally photograph women in all roles in biathlon participating in sport in ways that are equivalent to their men counterparts.”

Next steps for Biathlon Canada include collaborating with provincial and territorial biathlon organizations to implement their own gender equity-focused practices and procedures, and continuing to use the gender equity audit to inform decisions at national and local levels.

“The work in this space is never truly done,” said Ambery. “We are dedicated to maintaining and improving gender equity in our programs and initiatives, and thank Dr. Donnelly and Brock University’s Centre for Sport Capacity for starting us off on the right foot.”

For more information or for assistance arranging interviews:

* Maryanne St. Denis, Manager, Content and Communications, Brock University mstdenis@brocku.ca or 905-246-0256

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