Scrum one, scrum all!

Rugby Olympian brings light to the issues of gender equality in sports and how her success comes from the support of her father

Canadian Olympic rugby player Jen Kish, 29, recently retired after 13 seasons and a hefty list of successes on and off the field.

Though Kish is most known on the field for her medals, including winning bronze at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, she is also known for her advocacy for diversity and inclusion in sports.

Canadian soccer player Stephanie Labbe made headlines recently, after being excluded from the Calgary Foothills FC team for being a woman. Kish said she can relate to Labbe, a good friend of hers, and the discrimination women athletes face.

“I played football with a bunch of guys, and was not welcome there as well as I should have been, even though I had earned the right to be there,” Kish says.” It’s tough for women to find their place in sport. It’s hard enough just trying to play the sport, but then fighting over the fact that you deserve to be there.”

Kish feels that it is important for athletes like Labbe to challenge organizations on their policies and rules regarding gender and sex. She says that if women are entering the team and raising the level of the game, they should be able to play. Though discrimination still exists in all sports, Kish says she doesn’t want this issue to stop women from pursuing their dreams.
Kish explains that men often play on bigger stages, gain more airtime on television and make more money, and it can often feel like a losing battle. But she says that women are going farther each day, and will not stop fighting.

“If women want to play sports, they just have to know there are going to be a lot of obstacles that males don’t see, or have to fight through,” she says.

According to the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity (CAAWS), only two per cent of girls aged from 12 through 17 are getting enough physical activity. Reports also show that only one out of 10 high- school girls participated in optional physical education classes. On top of that, only 19 per cent of adult Canadian women participated in sports, in comparison to 35 per cent of adult Canadian men. Nearly all parents reported that their children are physically active, yet the numbers show that eight per cent of girls met the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines, compared to 14 per cent of boys.

Kish mentions that one of her goals is to encourage parents about the importance of involving their children in sports, and how it can impact their future.

“I didn’t join rugby to get paid millions, I joined rugby because I love the sport and it made me a better person,” Kish says. “You have to keep the passion for what you do.”

Though she has had many ups and downs in her career, Kish is grateful to have her father as her number one supporter. She tells how her father, a single parent, took on several jobs to provide for their family and sport activities. She explains that his supportive attitude is anchored in his belief in the value of sports and how they can bring such value to one’s life.

“He is the sole reason I was able to make it to Rio and complete a childhood dream of mine. I am forever grateful for that.”

Edmonton Community Foundation is bringing Kish to Edmonton as part of the Edmonton Public Library’s Forward Thinking Speaker Series on June 14. She will share her story and discuss diversity and inclusion in sports. Tickets can be purchased here.

You can also listen to our interview with Jen Kish on The Well-Endowed Podcast by clicking here.