bianca andreescu looks to the crowd after winning rogers cup

Photo: Peter Power/Tennis Canada

On International Women’s Day, people around the world celebrate what it means to be a woman. They celebrate success and progress in the movement to end gender inequality and lack of opportunity. They celebrate women of different identities, races and religions; women who each have different ­­­stories and voices that need to be admired and heard.

And on this day, Tennis Canada would like to join the conversation.

We’d like to celebrate not only the outstanding achievements of the women tennis players who have succeeded at all levels of our sport, but all women who in sport who, through their accomplishments, serve as inspiration for women and girls of all ages.

The likes of US Open champion Bianca Andreescu, doubles ace Gabriela Dabrowski, Billie Jean King Cup captain Heidi El Tabakh and other influential figures in Canadian women’s tennis are part of a rich tapestry of Canadian sports heroes that includes soccer’s Christine Sinclair, Olympic legend Clara Hughes and , golf star Brooke Henderson and Women’s Hockey gold medalist Caroline Ouellette.

We want to celebrate the depth in diversity of Canadian women who chose to take up tennis. Rising teenager Leylah Fernandez of Montreal proudly represents her Quebecois, Ecuadorian and Filipino heritage, while Andreescu, whose parents immigrated from Romania to start a life in Canada, also inspires generations of New Canadians who are looking to involve their daughters in sport or get involved themselves.

leylah fernandez celebrates her fed cup victory with her teammates
Photo: Urs Lindt/Tennis Canada

And while we should be proud of the strides made recently – we know the challenges that women and girls in our sport continue to face remain. There is still work to be done.

One significant area of concern is that girls are less likely to stay involved in sport compared to boys. According to Canadian Women & Sport’s Rally Report (2020), there is a significant gender gap in sport participation in Canada among youth. While kids of all genders start playing their sport (or sports) of choice at similar participation rate, only 1 in 10 boys end up dropping out as they reach adolescence compared to a staggering 1 in 3 girls who quit sport participation altogether. Also, we see that there’s room for improvement when it comes to access to coaching at all levels, programming and creating a supportive environment for girls involved in our sport.

Key factors such as family household income, ablebodiedness and parents who participate in sport themselves also influence fluctuating participation rates for girls.

I always say that you can’t be what you can’t see. It is important to continue to have role models for our young girls as well as creating opportunities for not only the coaches we currently have, but the next generation too.

One of the key takeaways from the Rally Report is that it’s essential for sport organizations to consider how different girls and women experience sport, as well as the barrier they have to overcome to participate comfortably and be successful. And not just women and girls of a certain demographic – but those from all walks of life and in all sectors of sport like umpires, officials, administrator and coaches

Education is an essential piece of the puzzle when it comes to keeping girls engaged in sport through childhood and into adolescence.

junior fed cup captain heidi el tabakh takes a selfie with her players
Photo: Tennis Canada

And in the end, it’s all about having fun and making sure that they have a safe and positive experience – from recreational play at the local park all the way to the highest level.

This approach has already started to reap rewards for the next generation of Canadian tennis players. At the Montreal-based National Tennis Centre presented by Rogers, a strong group of young women are leading the charge as they look to take Canadian tennis to the next level. Keep an eye on teenagers Victoria Mboko, Kayla Cross, Annabelle Xu, and Mia Kupres as they raise their junior profiles on the international stage.

So yes, it’s true: we have plenty of amazing stories and athletes to celebrate on International Women’s Day. But, at Tennis Canada, we also know that there’s still much more progress that needs to be made and challenges that our sport needs to overcome when it comes to gender equity.

And we’re committed to doing the work.

Let’s create change together!