Instilling Gender Equity in Youth Competitive Sports Run and Hosted by Local Districts

Young girls high-fiving each other after soccer game

Nationwide and across California gender inequity persists in competitive youth sports programming hosted and run by park and recreation departments. Low-income girls of color particularly lack access and equity. In one study conducted by our Fair Play for Girls in Sports nonprofit project, California park and recreation departments reported girls receiving just one-third, or less, of community-based sports opportunities, despite girls’ interest in playing far more. Many departments are not tracking gender at all across youth sports. And existing girls’ sports too often get inferior facilities, resources, and attention.

California’s law AB 2404 (effective as of 2005), also known as the Fair Play in Community Sports Act, mandates gender equity in competitive youth sports run and hosted by park and recreation agencies throughout the state. The law is modeled after the federal statute Title IX. AB 24040 (Section 53080 to the Government Code) has long required equity in opportunity—affording girls athletic slots in line with their community representation and interests—as well as equity in the treatment and benefits experienced by girls in sports. AB 2404 affords a private right of action to individuals to enforce equity in court.

Not only is AB 2404 the law, ensuring gender equity in youth sports is the right thing to do. In addition to the health benefits of athletics, girls who play sports excel academically and in the work-place as adults.

Some of the athletic inequity issues girls face include:

  • Second-rate facilities and lesser facilities access, such as girls’ teams consigned to shared community areas, while boys’ teams have lengthy leases and permits to premier, exclusive-use areas at low to no cost;
  • More department-run, subsidized sports for boys, with girls relegated to higher-priced third party league opportunities, as well as co-ed leagues that can be unwelcoming to girls;
  • Publicity, banners, and social media featuring few, if any, girls and their teams, suppressing girls’ sign-ups and interest;

Here are three simple tips for jumpstarting gender equity in local sports programs:

  1. Count the girls in department-run sports programs and third-party leagues. If girls’ share of sports slots is not comparable to the share of female youth residents, increase opportunity based on girls’ input.
  2. Assess girls’ teams amenities and experiences, such as facilities, coaching, budget, and advertising, making adjustments to fix any inequities.
  3. Regularly convene a task force of girls’ teams and leagues to learn of needed improvements, while educating all community stakeholders of AB 2404 obligations and remedial action steps.

As youth sports re-open and everyone recognizes how critical athletics are to youth wellbeing, visit the Fair Play web site for more information (including tools such as a model girls’ sports interest survey), chart next steps for equity, and make changes to level the playing field for girls.

Note, this article does not contain legal advice. Please contact an attorney as needed.

Kim Turner, J.D., is a Senior Staff Attorney and Director of the nonprofit Fair Play for Girls in Sports project of Legal Aid at Work

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