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Women, Sport, and Film - 2002
Student Papers
On Serendip

sport mergers

janet merone

Many of the pre-existing women's sports organizations such as Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW), Fédération Sportive Féminine Internationale (FSFI), and American Basketball League (ABL) have been the casualties of male dominated sports structure. These organizations merged or dissolved as other male dominated institutions began to include women's competitive sports. The NCAA saw the potential for additional revenue as the AIAW grew. Rather than lose significant financial resources the NCAA insisted that its member institutions offer women championships. This meant that both men's and women's programs had to be included in member institution or not be recognized by the NCAA. As a result of the Women's Olympic Games the International Olympic Committee (IOC) feared it would lose power over the amateur sports domain. This discovery motivated the IOC to include more sports for women in the 1928 Olympic Games. The ABL struggling financially and creatively folded in 1998 as a result many of its players joined the WNBA creating an unofficial merger. The disappearance of these organizations has in many ways created a void of women leadership. Consequently women have not been able to truly identify their role as sports administrators.

The Women's Olympic Game was the brainchild of Alice Milliat. Milliat and her fellow French feminist founded the Fédération Sportive Féminine Internationale (FSFI) in 1917. She founded this organization after the International Olympic Committee refused her petition to allow women to compete in track and field at the Olympics. The federation included the United States, Great Britain, Czechoslovakia, France, Italy, and Spain. The first World Games for women were held at the Stade Pershing in Paris on August 20, 1922. The event was completed in one day, and consisted of 11 events. With an audience of 20,000 for the closing stages the International Olympic Committee took note and voted to allow women to compete in 5 of 10 sports, suggested by the FSFI, at the 1928 Summer Olympic Games (Hult 87). The 1928 Games had reduced events, and opportunities, which meant that women's leadership were reduced as a result. Although FSFI was victorious in opening more opportunities for women to compete at the Olympics women were still excluded from making decision process in their own sports. The IOC conceded to the FSFI only to sustain its powers.
Despite the advances of TITLE IX the fight to allow women to equally engage in sport continues today. Many unforeseen consequences occurred due to TITLE IX specifically with women's involvement in the administration aspects of sports. In the article "The story of women's Athletic Manipulating a Dream" author Joan Hult supports this idea. Hult concludes
"although [TITILE IX] brought millions of girls and women to the sports fields and arenas, it reduced thousands of women administrators to secondary positions of leadership and removed them from decision making positions. As a consequence of the loss of women in decision making positions the governance of girls and women athletes became the province of men and men's governance structures" (Hult 96).

The most notable victim was the AIAW. The AIAW's down fall or merger with the NCAA created a void of women who administrate sport (coaches, athletic directors). After the collapse of AIAW many of the positions offered by the NCAA were not filled by AIAW women, but by men.

The ABL (American Basketball League) folded in 1998 after three seasons. The league was unable to compete with the rival WNBA, which is backed by the money and marketing strength of the NBA. Ultimately the ABL's bankruptcy occurred because it was unable to get the necessary TV exposure and sponsorship to survive. Possibly the mainstream audience of women's basketball preferred the WNBA because of its high profile connection to the NBA. The NBA as a well-established institution for basketball automatically proved the WNBA credibility. The ABL lacking corporate backing suffered because it was an independent entity in basketball. An important question to pose is: was the ABL's bankruptcy due the lack of a fan base or corporate sponsorship?

Although the WNBA is a successful league its connection to the NBA adds to the void of women administrators and reinforces the need for men in a women's professional basketball success. Sarah Banet-Weiser author of the article "Hoop Dreams" argues, "that women's professional basketball has been defined as a cultural arena that is primarily about gender"(Weiser 404). The NBA is helping to reinforce societal constraints on the women professional basketball players. It is obvious that "the WNBA, as a cultural arena, is clearly about normative femininity, heterosexuality, maternity, and perhaps most important, respectability"(Weiser 404). Consequently the lose of the ABL also reduced the numbers of women in administration positions, of coaches and of opportunities for leadership. The ABL's most important legacy is that it did not allow its self to be defined by the gender of its athletes. Its demise or "merger" ultimately reinforces the gendered identity of the WNBA.

In conclusion the reduction of women in leadership positions is in part due to the mergers of female sport structured organizations with male dominated sports structures. The opportunity to gain and lose additional resources was the primary motivations of male dominated structures such as the NCAA. The void of women's leadership in sport has perhaps created a sense of lose in women's athletes. Although women have significantly improved its position in sport and society there is still a long journey to equality in both arenas.

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