Sexual Inequality in Sport

Women’s sport in Cambridge is underfunded. It’s time the University took action to end this inequality.

Cambridge Cambridge University CUSU Hawks natalie szarek nomura ospreys oxford university title IX varsity match women's sport

Shocking figures have revealed the difficulties women face trying to play sport in Cambridge.

The Tab has exposed the complacency of high-ranking university employees towards the issue.

Nationwide the percentage of women who play sport drops by 50% between sixth form and higher education, while there is virtually no change in the number of men playing sport regularly.

The stats are not down to a lack of demand: 68.4% of female students would like to play more sport, 80% feel they have been failed by shortcomings in funding and facilities.

Speaking to The Tab, CUSU Women’s Officer Natalie Szarek said: “There is definitely a problem in the University with inequality between men and women’s sports. All students should have access to sports facilities that meet their needs.”

Full blue women’s sports struggle to get the funding that they need to cover their costs.

In 2008, for example, the women’s lacrosse team received just over a grand from the university.

This sounds like a lot (although it is around half of what their male counterparts received that year) until you consider that the cost of driving one team to Exeter and back in a minibus is £814.

A lacrosse player at Durham would have access to full time professional coaching support, fitness and nutrition programs, free physiotherapy, video analysis, holiday training advice, time management mentoring and most importantly, a structured fundraising program that allows all of this to happen.

Here? Well you get a pat on the back if you win Varsity and that’s about it.

The women’s teams who manage to keep their heads above water financially are those who are connected to a high profile men’s sport.

Rici Marshall, women’s Rugby captain admitted that they are “incredibly lucky due to the association with the men’s rugby club and their sponsors.”


The problem is that, firstly, women’s sports should not have to rely on the generosity of another team to secure adequate funding, and secondly, many teams do not have the advantage of being linked with another successful club.

When asked by The Tab what they were doing to address this problem, Tony Lemons, Director of Physical Education for the University of Cambridge, completely failed to come up with a solution for women’s sport.

He advised women who were struggling to simply “merge” with a men’s team in order to “benefit from shared resources.”

The Ospreys aim to raise the profile of women’s sports, and do a good job of attracting corporate sponsorship.

However, they have been devastated financially by the theft of £50,000 worth of donations intended to finance their clubhouse.

A crooked local accountant made off with the money and has never been brought to justice.

The Hawks club offers grants to students who excel in their sport, but 85% of Women’s Blues interviewed by The Tab had no idea that these were available. Clearly these need to be publicized better in order to reach out to top level female sportswomen.

University authorities are currently being pressured into acting by the implementation of the Gender Equality Duty, which has recently come into full force.

Before, women would have to prove that they were being individually discriminated against. Now it is up to the University to prove that they are sorting out the problems.

They wrote a report two years ago listing all the things they needed to do to stamp out sexism.

Typically, they have not backed up their promises with actions.

Aiming to bridge the gap between men and women’s sports came low down in their priorities list, with the highest priority being given to cutting down the numbers of drinking societies.

So how do we relate to other Universities?

A recent study compared the sports facilities of 11 top universities. Unfortunately, it specified that Cambridge had been excluded, as we don’t have enough facilities to warrant being compared with the others.

The Tab have put together their own figures.

Loughborough, Exeter and Sheffield have three times the amount of gym workstations as us, most of the other Universities on the list more than doubled our figures.

To put these figures in context, there is one piece of machinery here for every 236 people.

That is a lot of people to fit on a treadmill.

This is particularly serious as going to the gym is the second most common form of exercise that women participate in regularly.

Joining a gym like the Glassworks costs £420 a year, not many students want to spend a third of their first term’s student loan on getting access to facilities that the University should be providing.

While it is perhaps not realistic to compare our meagre provisions with Loughborough, renowned for its sporting prowess, we should certainly be able to compete with Oxford, especially since so much pressure is put on sports teams in the build up to their Varsity match.

Unlike Cambridge, Oxford is doing something positive about their problems.

The Tab got hold of a leaked report commissioned by their Sports Department which outlined a planned spend of over £30 million pounds to improve their university sports centre and build new facilities in order to “create a culture of excellence around sport that matches the University’s approach to almost everything else it does”.

Oxford are also implementing a policy allowing university sports teams to train on underused college pitches, a solution that could potentially be successful here.


Unlike Cambridge, Oxford is doing something positive about their problems.

Cambridge needs to do something quickly. The government is on their backs.

Targets have been set to force them to allocate enough resources to eliminate unlawful discrimination. They will have to produce concrete evidence that they are actively solving the problem.

Acknowledging the issue is no longer enough.

The University needs to come up with some solutions and it is possible to radically change things.

In America Title IX legislation meant that colleges had to allocate equal resources, schedule the same number of events, have the same amount of coaches and cover men’s and women’s sports with the same level of publicity. Female participation in collegiate sports increased by 456%.

The stats speak for themselves.

Greater cooperation between sport on a college and a university level will help, as will increased commitment to funding.

But ultimately the university has to back up their promises with actions. If they want their sports teams to compete with other top universities then something has to be done, and soon.