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Female Athletes Who Changed History: A Brief Guide

By Marianna Kazazi, The Sports Financial Literacy Academy, APC Sports Consulting, Nicosia, Cyprus

Female interest and presence in the sports industry has been steadily increasing, particularly in the past couple of decades.

Statistically, the percentage of females competing at a club level, is approximately 23% higher than their male counterpart percentage.

This is mainly due to the push for gender equality, for which many female athletes have fought to achieve in their own individual fields. However, the journey of female athletes in sports began a long time ago…

Alice Coachman made history in the 1948 London Olympic Games as she was the first black woman who won a gold medal. Her words have undoubtedly encouraged females to chase their dream of having a career in sports:

I’ve always believed that I could do whatever I set my mind to do. I encourage women to work harder and fight harder.”

Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to run the Boston marathon. In addition to that, she was a journalist, an author and a TV commentator within the sports industry. She also took part and won the New York City Marathon of 1974, which was catalytic, not only for her, but also for sports history, broadly speaking, as her performance and victory positively affected the attempt to include a women’s running marathon in the Olympic Games.

Additionally, the Russian tennis player, Maria Sharapova, turned pro at the young age of 14. During that time, in 2001, tennis as a female sport was starting to develop into a power game. In 2003, she was the first winner of the Women’s Tennis Association. She has also built her personal brand and she is highly involved in marketing, as she is still known as the most marketable female athlete and receives millions of US dollars annually from sponsorships and marketing activities.

More recent examples, include Ronda Rousey and Brittney Grinner.

Ronda Rousey is a female fighter, who revolutionized a traditionally male-dominated field: Mixed Martial Arts. Specifically, the MMA fighter went on to become the first woman to sign with UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship). Prior to her MMA debut, she became the first woman in the United States to receive a judo medal in the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.

Another female who made history, is Brittney Grinner, whose playing style contributed to her successful career in Basketball. As a gay professional athlete, Brittney was open about her personal life. This, eventually, made her a beacon for other gay athletes.

During this year’s Beijing Winter Olympic Games, many female athletes made their countries proud by winning first-time medals.

Examples include: Jessie Diggins, the 30-year-old skier who was the first woman from team USA to win a medal in the Olympics Games’ cross-country sprint; and Eileen Gu, who won the first gold medal for China in the freestyle big ski competition.

Today, we are moving towards a more equal future, with more women athletes thriving in their sports and pushing for more equality, either directly or indirectly.

However, none of this would have been possible without these 20th and early 21st century examples: Coachman, Switzer, Sharapova, Serena and Venus Williams, who have proved to the world that female competition can be as entertaining and engaging as that of men!


For further information on empowering women athletes, log onto: ‘’

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The editors of  the Journal Sports Law & Taxation are Professor Ian Blackshaw and Dr Rijkele Betten, with specialist contributions from the world's leading practitioners and academics in the sports law and taxation fields.

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Dr. Rijkele Betten

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Prof. Guglielmo Maisto
Maisto e Associati, Milano

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Hardwick & Morris LLP, London


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