Ex-Minister of Sport Kent Hehr in correspondence to the Commons heritage committee said federal initiatives must assist female athletes with “low confidence”, “poor body image” and “fear of judgment”. The letter is to be tabled today in the Commons. Hehr signed it a week before leaving cabinet over allegations he commented on a woman’s breasts, and told another: “You’re yummy.”
“From a psychosocial perspective, sport provides a valuable tool for addressing gender inequity,” read Hehr’s 13-page response to a committee report Women And Girls In Sport. “Women and girls who participate in sport experience increased feelings of self-esteem, self-worth, efficacy, empowerment and personal freedom.”
“Women and girls often lack the necessary social support, encouragement, role models, self-confidence and money to participate fully,” the response continued. “Top issues include the availability of quality programming; access to facilities and equipment; and low confidence or poor body image (fear of judgment).”
Hehr left cabinet January 25 pending an investigation into claims he’d made inappropriate remarks to women at work. The allegations date back several years. “Canadians have a right to live and work in environments free from harassment,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.
The Commons heritage committee in its report proposed programs to encourage more participation by women and girls in amateur athletics. MPs recommended federally-subsidized clubs and associations hire more women directors and coaches; that the government “eradicate harassment abuse from Canadian sport”; and that telecom regulators “impose broadcast hours with respect to women’s sports as part of the license renewal of public and private television services.”
In his written response on behalf of cabinet, Hehr blamed media for stereotyping female athletes. “Media messages about women, femininity and sport present a major challenge to retaining women and girls in sport,” said the document. “Overall, male athletes receive greater media attention focused on skills and performance than female athletes.”
“For instance, while there has been relatively strong focus on female sport at Olympic and Paralympic Games” – women won 16 of 22 medals for Canada at the 2016 Rio Olympics – “there has been little coverage of women and girls in sport otherwise.”
“Furthermore, sports media often report on female athletes in ways that reinforce stereotypes and outdated gender roles instead of prioritizing athletic achievements,” read Hehr’s response.
Sport Canada, a federal granting agency, paid $27.7 million in subsidies to top-level Canadian athletes in 2016, according to financial accounts. Of the total, $13.4 million went to women under the Athlete Assistance Program.