Historical Social change Motivated by Sports

Historical Social change Motivated by Sports

This article highlights eight moments in sports history when inclusion, gender equality, equal rights, peacebuilding, and unity arose in sports and manifested in different aspects of society around the world. The idea is to bring to your attention the role sports has played in addressing human rights issues and motivated social change. This can be referred to as Sport for Social Change.

Herewith are eight cases in history when sports and recreation encouraged Sport for Social Change and initiated a wide-reaching social change in addressing human rights issues including Gender equality, Equal right, Inclusion, Peacebuilding, and Unity.

Can you think of any sportsperson who played a similar role that is not on this list? You may add them in the comment section at the end of this article. Remember, we learn from you just as much as you learn from us.

Below is a summary about how Billie Jean King and Mildred Ella Didrikson actively advocated for gender equality. The role of Jackie Robinson and Jesse Owens in promoting equal rights for humanity, how Natalie du Toit and Oscar Pistorius played vital roles in promoting inclusion in sports and finally the story of Ekecheiria, (the Olympic Truce) and the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa. Emphasizing how these events respectively gave rise to peacebuilding and unity. As always, ladies come first.

Gender Equality

Billie Jean King

In sports and in society in general. There is a well-known trend that suggests that men are superior to women. This is still evident in entertainment sport, especially were men get higher price money and more exposure while women get less and are discouraged from participating in sports and recreation.

Billie Jean King was one of the most influential athletes to intentionally and actively campaign for equal prize money for both genders. In 1971 she became the 1st female athlete to top the $100 000 in prize money in a single year [1]. Two years later King spearheaded the formation of women’s Tennis Association and threatened a boycott of the US open the same year if the ‘pay inequality’ was not addressed [1]. This act resulted in the US Open becoming the 1st major tournament to offer equal prize money to women and men. Billie Jean King was also one of the 1st women to coach professional male athletes when she, together with her husband founded world team tennis co-ed circuit. In addition to that, King started a women’s sports magazine. At the time this was not as prominent.

What most people know about her though is that she humbled Bobby Rigs [2]. In her own right, King was an excellent athlete. She won six Wimbledon singles championships and four US open titles [2]. She was ranked number one in the world for five years [2]. One of the highlights of her achievements was the Battle of the Sexes tennis match, which is to follow.

On September 20 in 1073 Billie Jean King accepted a tennis match against a 55-year-old man in a match famously known as the “Battle of the Sexes”. Before an estimated television audience of 50 million viewers in addition to those present during the game. Billie Jean King won that match in straight sets, beating Riggs 6-4, 6-3, and 6-3 [2]. After the game when interviewed she said “I thought it would set us back 50 years if I didn’t win that match.  … It would ruin the women’s tour and affect all the women’s self-esteem” [2].

Mildred Ella Didrikson

This brings us to another woman of golden status who contributed significantly to Sport for Social Change, Mildred Ella Didrikson. Popularly known as Babe Didrikson then, she was a member of the women’s all – American basketball team from 1930 to 1932 [3]. During the same period, she won eight events and tied a ninth in a national championship competition in track and field [3]. Babe was accomplished in just about every sport she played including golf, basketball, tennis, swimming, diving, boxing, volleyball, handball, bowling, billiards, skating and cycling [4], talk about being multitalented!

If you think that’s impressive then let me add that in the 1932 women’s Amateur athletic association (AAU). Competing as a team by herself, Didrikson won in six individuals events together with the team title [3]. During which she achieved world records in the javelin, the 80-meter hurdles, high jump and in the baseball throw but there’s more.

Babe qualified for the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles and was the 1st women javelin Olympian. She set a world record in winning the 1st Olympic 80-meter hurdles [4]. Didrikson actually qualified for five Olympic events in 1932 but unfortunately, women were only allowed to compete in three. This has changed of course, partly because of her.

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Thando W. Dlamini, BA

Sport Development and Exercise Science Practitioner

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1 Response

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