Off the Record: Olympics can be the time for the women’s spotlight

With much of the sports world dominated by men, the Olympics represent a time to honour the accomplishments of women.

Throughout the Olympics, storylines are made, narratives developed and countless stories shared. As a sporting nation, we discuss how many gold medals were awarded to whom. We shame Russia for winning any at all and laugh at the screw-ups at the event like the diving pool that inexplicably turned green last week.

But there’s more to the Olympic Games that needs to be acknowledged and addressed. One narrative that isn’t getting nearly enough attention throughout the country is the display being put on by Canadian women at the Games in Rio. For as much as the Olympic Games makes headlines every two years for human rights violations and general being unprepared for the events, the Olympics are nearly the only place in professional sports where gender equality is a ubiquitous concept.

This fact is no more evident than in the Canadian Olympic team that, until Sunday night when Andre De Grasse won bronze in the 100-metre sprint, all of the Canadian medal winners were female. While some may dismiss that as a lack of strong male athletes, the real narrative that Canadians should be getting behind is that Canada’s female athletes deserve the spotlight that the men receive professionally the other 50 weeks of the year.

If you don’t believe that, try and find another time of the year where female athletes are realistically put on the same level and appreciated as men. In hockey, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League is not even a decade old and lacks national attention outside of the few who watch the championships every year in the Clarkson Cup. Shift to basketball and you’d struggle to find someone who actually knows of the WNBA’s existence, never mind someone who’s viewed a game themselves. Then think about baseball and football and you find that no professional league for women’s participation actually exists.

Outside of the Olympic Games, women in sports are unfortunately ignored. That is what makes this the opportune time to honour and cheer for Canada’s female athletes. When we see athletes like 16-year-old Penny Oleksiak, we can relish in solidarity that what she’s doing truly is incredible, not only for her country but for sports in general. How many athletes do we know at that age that are coming home from an Olympic Games with multiple medals, never mind the fact that she’s Canadian.

The best thing about stories like Oleksiak’s is that they can serve as role models for young girls looking to break the stereotype that professional sports are only for men; that only men can land in the spotlight for their work in the sporting world.

That’s a narrative worth developing and fostering as we go through the closing days of the Olympic Games and celebrate the closing ceremony. If society works hard enough, maybe it can be collectively brought in as a narrative that lasts beyond the Olympics someday.

After all, it’s 2016.