Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Doctor of Philosophy




Schneider, Angela J.


Gender equality in sports acquired unprecedented discussion in the past few decades with the efforts of sports organizations such as the United Nations (UN), athletes, professionals, and scholars worldwide. Girls’ participation, women’s media representation, participation of transgender athletes, equal opportunity, equal pay, etc. drew attention and awareness successfully. However, the outbreak of COVID-19 has been limiting the achievement of women in sports due to the cancellation of sports events, postponement of the Olympic Games, stay-at-home orders in lockdown, and restrictions on health measurements. This study utilized methods of semi-structured interviews, media analysis, and comparative analysis to examine the barriers faced by female Olympic athletes, along with their coping strategies during the COVID-19 pandemic. A comparison between Chinese and Canadian female athletes was implemented to gain insight into the barriers they struggled with in the pandemic, including the level of adaptation to COVID-19, length of building resilience to return to sports (RTS), accessibility of training facility, mental health problems, and other possible barriers. The results in this thesis indicated that Canadian female athletes had more significant obstacles in training whereas Chinese female counterparts did not perceive they had a considerable challenge since the pandemic. Despite the differences, the main similarity between Canadian and Chinese female athletes was the delay of the Olympic Games allowed them to re-concentrate on training and disassociate from the stressful ambience. The differences between the athletes’ experiences in the pandemic were due to different levels of accessibility to resources: female athletes in China acquired secured environments for training while Canadian female athletes had more opportunities to find various official resources online. Chinese athletes had better training accessibility and supervision from coaches while Canadian athletes had relatively limited access to training facilities. Overall, the pandemic increased gender inequality for elite female athletes to participate in sports and support systems. Sports organizations should comprehensively review and improve their operations to learn from the pandemic in order to support elite female athletes.

Summary for Lay Audience

This multidisciplinary study utilized feminist concepts in order to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the current situation for female athletes in the sports context, particularly elite women athletes in Canada and China and their experiences during the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games and the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games. The first part outlines predominant ethical issues from primarily the philosophy and history of sport literature and is part of the literature review. The context for women in sport and the content of masculinity and sexuality, the history of sexual segregation and its current replacement rules, and autonomy and paternalism for female athletes, are all an important part of the story. Each of these topics could be expanded into a full dissertation. However, I have tried to use a multidisciplinary kind of puzzle game to demonstrate how these ethical issues have shaped and are shaping female athletes in sports. Barriers that stem from these issues are representative of not only pre-existing discrimination against female athletes, but also the socialized gender culture which has decision-making power during the global pandemic. The study also utilized methods of semi-structured interviews, social media content analysis and comparative analysis. Some predominant barriers for female athletes were training and living accessibility; motivation as elite athletes; mental stress; lack of resources for coping with COVID-19. Media content analysis was a comprehensive tool to better understand of Chinese female athletes for their experience during COVID-19. The comparative study between Chinese and Canadian female athletes identified the differences and similarities in coping strategies. Chinese female athletes met a lower level of barriers with a secure training environment stemming from its sports system. In contrast, Canadian female athletes had addressed more obstacles, but multiple resources were available for athletes to use. The result was that athletes from two countries had relatively sufficient resilience to return to sports. The third part identifies and explains the challenge that pre-pandemic barriers provided a social context for female athletes during COVID-19. This social context included the existing discrimination against female athletes where the global pandemic reflected and stressed those issues with masculinity and sexuality.