Future of women’s sport in Canada looking bright, advocate says

With Toronto getting a WNBA basketball team, a sports advocate says this representation in sports will have a lasting impact on young girls across Canada.

An official league confirmation is expected to come later this month, but numerous reports have indicated the team could hit the court by May 2026.

This also comes on the heels of an extremely successful inaugural regular PWHL season that saw numerous records broken in attendance and viewership.

A total of 392,259 fans attended games at venues that included various NHL rinks, highlighted by a women’s hockey record crowd of 21,105 turning out at the Canadiens’ Bell Centre for a Montreal-Toronto showdown last month.

And with the Caitlin Clark effect bringing record-breaking attendance to Edmonton, interest in women’s sports is ramping up.

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Lesley Hawke, an advocate for women in sports and athlete mental health, says this is the “most exciting time for women’s sports in Canada.”

“To have another women’s professional team come into play is the best thing that can happen for us … and it’s just going to continue to give us the exposure that we need, and that we deserve in Canada,” she told CityNews.

“It’s just going to be on the rise, and it’s going to continue to rise, which is the best thing that can happen for women’s sports.”

Hawke noted that this representation will not only generate more interest in sports among young girls but will also prevent young athletes from dropping out, as it gives them something to work towards.

Girls drop out of sports at higher rate than boys; fans of women’s sport increasing

A research study from Canadian Women and Sport, which focused on sports participation for girls aged six to 18, found that one in three girls leave sports by late adolescence, much higher than the dropout rate for teenage boys which is one in 10.

It also found that sports participation for Canadian girls dropped steadily from childhood to teenage years, with around 62 per cent of girls not playing at all.

Watch: Why are girls dropping out of sports?

In 1992, just over half of women aged 15 or older were participating in sport. That dropped to 35 per cent by 2010. According to the 2020 report, 18 per cent of women aged 16-63 are currently involved in sport.

The report states the barriers that affected girls’ continuation in sports as low confidence, negative body image, perceived lack of skill, or poor perceptions of belonging and feeling unwelcome.

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However, another report released in April 2024 that included Canadians aged 13-65 found that 67 per cent of Canadians consider themselves fans of women’s sports.

This amounts to 17 million Canadians. Of that number, 41 per cent, or 10 million, consider themselves “avid fans,” regularly watching women’s professional sports and major events like the Olympics, Paralympic Games, and the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Of those included in the study, slightly more than half (53 per cent) are men, and the balance of fans are women (46 per cent) and gender-diverse people (1 per cent).

The report also says that eight in 10 fans of pro women’s sports are “excited about the future of women’s sport in Canada,” and if given the opportunity, “are eager to engage further in various ways.”

Hawke says having a professional team gives girls something to aspire to, like men’s teams and how they inspire young boys.

“Now we have soccer, we have basketball, we have hockey, we have so many sports that we can look to play in a professional league for now like … It’s incredible,” she said.

“And that’s just going to continue to, I believe, is going to get more young women into sport, too, which is something that we definitely need across the board.”