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LEZLIE LOWE: Halifax should match stadium money for women's sport

Citadel’s Kathleen Dolan is tackled as she scores a try against Halifax West during metro high school girls’ rugby action on Mainland Common on Thursday. The Phoenix defeated the Warriors 48-12.
Citadel’s Kathleen Dolan is tackled as she scores a try against Halifax West during metro high school girls’ rugby action on Mainland Common last May. - Tim Krochak

If the common sense argument holds that cities find cash for what they care about, it would seem Halifax is dying to bring a CFL team to town.

Council voted Tuesday to punt $20 million into the gloves of Schooner Sports and Entertainment to help construct a multi-use stadium for football and a couple of concerts a year. Maybe the NHL Heritage Classic.

This was a turnover, indeed, after a staff report on the stadium proposal was read widely as a nail in the coffin for Halifax’s CFL aspirations. But council’s vote Tuesday clawed that nail back out. Some citizens declared the 10-7 nod as a signal that demonstrated untenability is no obstacle whatsoever for mega-projects, while others played it off as another baby step in our status quo CFL maybeness, noting the offer’s many conditions.

On the topic of conditions, I have my own.

That taxpayers match, dollar for dollar, whatever cash we end up pumping into this stadium scheme and put it toward women and girls in sport.

Because if we’re talking about strategic development — and apparently we are, since the promised $20 million will be pulled from the Strategic Capital Reserve — here’s a strategy to consider: we need to care less about men in sport and more about women and girls.

Materially, women and girls are not what the CFL is about.

The players? Men. Head coaches? Men. Sixty per cent of home viewers are men. Go to a game? Men, men, a few women, men. New for the 2019 season are two female officials, and one woman’s name on the Grey Cup — Dayna Spiring, chair of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

This is a male game. (That the cheerleaders are majority young, fit, smiling women in skirts or short-shorts, often in the snow, is the topic of another column.) I’ll concede: making a decision to prop up this stadium project is about funding tourism. And it’s about getting behind the important idea that Halifax is a mature enough large Canadian city to successfully run a CFL team.

Plus, football is fun.

My very earliest memories include attending Ottawa Rough Riders games with my parents. Today, when I visit my dad in Ottawa during football season, I watch the Redblacks. I love the howl of the crowd; I love holding my breath during field goals. If I’m honest, I don’t understand the nuance of the game, I just love getting caught up in it. It’s spectacle; I’m all in.

But I am sober about this much: Halifax needs to have a serious reckoning about football. It needs to accept that funding — handsomely — part of a CFL stadium is underpinning a plain idea: male sport is way more important than female sport.

But look at the numbers. It’s women and girls in sport who actually need money and a leg up. Not men.

Fewer women participate in organized sport than men. Fewer girls than boys meet accepted physical activity guidelines for their age; a paltry two per cent of girls ages 12-17 exercise enough to derive health benefits.

This is a public health emergency that tossing money at a stadium won’t ever fix, even if Halifax becomes the successful CFL city it dreams to be. And that, yes, I dream it to be.

So, look, sure — I’ll support the $20 million strategic reserve withdrawal. But if we’re interested in really being strategic, let’s drain that reserve’s entire $39 million, top it up another million, and give half to fund evidence-based initiatives that help more girls and women start in sport, and stay.

Want to join the conversation? Comments are open on this article at SaltWire.com

Lezlie Lowe is a freelance writer in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

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