Undoubtedly, COVID-19 has impacted the entire population on a global scale in various ways. Due to gender inequalities, one of the aspects where the COVID-19 pandemic has had the greatest impact on women and girls has been in sports.
The social impact of CoVID19 on the performance of physical activity outdoors, in gyms and fitness centers, has been reduced worldwide. Several athletes became infected with the virus, others had to undergo mandatory quarantine, many have not been able to carry out their training with the rigor they need, among others. Also, as a consequence of COVID-19 thousands of national and international sporting events have had to be suspended and canceled. The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, a great sporting event par excellence, were even postponed to 2021.
The medium and long-term impact of COVID-19 on women and girls is still unclear; however, it seems highly unlikely that massive sporting events or the promotion of sports can be reactivated in the short term without taking rigorous health measures. Furthermore, in many cities around the world, gyms are still not allowed to restart their activities, even with biosecurity and physical distance measures.
Not being able to play sports can be very detrimental to health. The United Nations has warned about how the few sports for development programs targeting girls have had to be suspended and girls needed to be sent back home, where many often face precarious situations. Sport helps improve health and relieves stress. In the case of girls, adolescents and women, the absence of physical activities, social isolation and other economic situations that affect families, could contribute to rising levels of stress, anxiety, loneliness, and depression. Unfortunately, this scenario represents strong challenges for mental health and well-being.
Although some schools have worked to run online programs that propose physical education and sports activities, there are still millions of girls who cannot participate because their access to the Internet is limited. Also, millions of women are prevented from participating in sports activities due to the multiple domestic tasks they have to do.
Undoubtedly, the impacts of Covid-19 on girls and women in the sports field can be evidenced in different areas such as leadership, gender-based violence, economic opportunities, participation, and representation in the media. Women in sports have been underrepresented in the leadership roles of sports organizations, being excluded from decision-making processes in the sector and, consequently, according to UN Women, there are fewer women than men involved in the process of assessing the impact of Covid-19 on sports.
This month UN Women organized a digital event where different leaders in the sports ecosystem in the Americas and the Caribbean were invited to discuss specific impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on women and girls in sports. These types of events are extremely necessary to generate awareness and visibility in civil society about this problem.
If women are not listened to and if they do not have the opportunity to take an active role in finding solutions, their specific needs will likely be forgotten, and their experiences will not be taken into account. In the field of sports, the participation of women in decision-making is essential for the formulation of public policies to include a gender perspective, and thus ensure that no one is left behind.