Sportswomen subjected to discrimination

April 14, 1995

Pressure on American universities and colleges to give women students the same athletic opportunities as men increased last month when a federal judge ruled that the Ivy League Brown University had failed to comply with the law, writes Lucy Hodges.

The university had discriminated against women by axing women's gymnastics and volleyball teams in 1991, said the judge. "This win is one more step in the right direction for women's sports," commented Donna Lopiano, executive director of the Women's Sports Foundation.

Brown University is the latest institution to have been found wanting over women's sports. Other universities which have violated the Title IX statute include Indiana University of Pennsylvania which was ordered to reinstate women's gymnastics and swimming and Colorado State which had to reinstate the women's softball team. The issue is extremely controversial because of budget cuts. Higher education institutions say they simply do not have the money to continue funding sports at current levels.

Brown hoped it was being even-handed when it eliminated women's gymnastics and volleyball because it axed men's golf and water polo at the same time.

But the judge thought otherwise. He said that "far more male athletes are being supported at the inter-collegiate level than are female athletes, and thus, women receive less benefit from their intercollegiate varsity programme as a whole than do men".

The fear among America's higher education institutions is that such rulings will lead to further cuts in men's sports, creating trench warfare between men and women, and causing women to be blamed for the situation.

There is some evidence that reductions in men's sports are already happening. For example, men's gymnastics and fencing have been dropped at Cornell.

One of the ironies of the latest case is that Brown claims to have a good record on women's sports. It offers an equal number of men's and women's varsity sports.

However, of the 900 varsity athletes, only about 40 per cent are female.

Brown will be appealing against the decision. Robert Reichley, the university's executive vice president, said this was a case it would not settle. If the university failed in its appeals, it would be forced to cut out more men's sports, he said.

Women's sports experts reject this analysis. They argue that money could be taken from lavishly funded sports such as American football to ensure that the less well funded are able to survive. The issue is expected to grow in importance as more and more women sue colleges and the arguments on both sides are clarified.

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