CORDIS - EU research results

Engendered sport: A historical sociological study of doing and undoing gender in sport

Project description

Making and breaking gender in sport

Sports are often divided into ‘male’ and ‘female’ contests, while mixed participation is rare. Moreover, many sports are seen as more appropriate for men than women, and some vice versa. This idea of gender-appropriateness led to women being excluded from weightlifting in the Olympic Games until the year 2000, while men are still barred from practicing Rhythmic Gymnastics. The EU-funded ENGENDEREDsport project will study how international sports federations and participants together create, enforce, and dismantle gender in their sports. Specifically, it will focus on gymnastics, swimming and weightlifting. Through these case studies, it will compare how three sports have been engendered through their international federations’ rules and policies, and how athletes, coaches, officials and governors have experienced gender in their sport. Shedding new light onto the binary gendering of sports as masculine or feminine, the findings will offer new policy recommendations for sports associations.


Why are sports segregated by gender? Why do women play some sports and not others? What makes gymnastics a feminine sport? Why shouldn’t men compete in synchronised swimming? Why didn’t women compete in Olympic weightlifting before 2000? These questions have gained renewed prominence in the wake of South African athlete Caster Semenya’s legal appeals against the decision by the International Association of Athletics Federations to reduce her testosterone levels, the ‘me too’ movement, revelations of years of abuse in women’s gymnastics, and the controversies around Laurel Hubbard’s transition from male to female and what it meant for her weightlifting career. These issues have cast a fresh spotlight on the gendering of sport which has created barriers to discrimination against women, and a range of psychological and health problems for women, especially young women.
This project employs historical sociology to understand how sports’ international governing bodies create, enforce, and dismantle gender segregation. It uses gymnastics, swimming, and weightlifting as case studies to compare how three sports have been engendered through their international federations’ rules and policies. Immersion in historical archives combined with qualitative interviews provide the data for the project, which will be analysed using a gender theory. In doing so, this project aims to provide a critical understanding of the binary gendering of sports as masculine or feminine, and offer new policy recommendations for sports associations to achieve greater inclusivity in sport. It will also expand the scientific skills of the researcher by incorporating sociological theory into history. It thereby broadens her expertise and reinforces a mature research position, improving the fellow’s employability post-project.


Net EU contribution
€ 305 778,24
70182 Orebro

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Östra Sverige Östra Mellansverige Örebro län
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 305 778,24