Gender equality in sports is gaining momentum and one Italian startup intends to ensure that female athletes are supported throughout their careers.
According to a 2020 OHCHR report on the intersection of race and gender discrimination in sport, the global level of participation of women and girls in both amateur and professional sports remains well below that of men and boys. Studies suggest that low female participation in sports may be related to “discriminatory social norms or obstacles to reconciling the burdens of care, work and sport...and lack of programmes to create a gender-sensitive and safe sporting environment” for women and girls. As the strength and conditioning coach for Lupebasket, a Serie A women’s basketball team in San Martino di Lupari, I witness some of these obstacles affecting our players everyday.
Basketball has always played a major role in my life. I grew up in a small town near Florence, and during my formative years, playing basketball not only kept me fit, but also taught me lessons about teamwork, trust and human connectivity. After graduating from university, I started working as a physical trainer and this experience showed me how tethered I am to the game, and the people I have met through the game. Even the best training program is driven by human connections. There is no program or technological tool that can inspire and ignite an athlete like an emotionally oriented coach. The success of a training program depends on the interaction of physical, psychological, emotional and social components.
I transitioned into female basketball coaching, after years spent in men's basketball, and approaching the world of women’s sports has been and still is a new, stimulating adventure. There are differences that I have to take into account when planning my work, but not as marked as one might think. The real gap, the deepest groove, is all around the game. Women's basketball is an environment with fewer economic resources and less appeal, but with equal passion. The efforts that women make are the same as those to which men are subjected, and the sacrifices are the same - often greater. I think that very often female athletes are unable to express their full potential because they find unsuitable conditions and few opportunities.
Lately, at least in words, we have seen some momentum. During 2019 and 2020, women’s sports received a multitude of supportive words, which I believe must be backed up with action. Following this momentum, two of my colleagues and I got together to create 4Athletes, a company that sides with athletes, providing concrete support beyond just words of encouragement. Our primary goal is to provide an individual service to basketball athletes, supporting them from a mental, nutritional, training and recovery point of view. In March 2021, we plan to inaugurate our Off Court area, which will coordinate athletes’ success beyond the court. The launch project is specifically designed to uplift female athletes, providing tools that allow them to develop their potential and support women who can promote Italian basketball. In order to optimise our impact, we shall make available a unique mix of programs and resources created to educate, protect and inspire players to take action. The service will consist of training courses in the areas of financial management, personal branding and dual / post career, helping athletes handle various aspects of life off the court, in different periods of their careers.
As an avid NBA fan, I am inspired by how the league is also breaking down barriers for female athletes. On December 30, 2020, Rebecca "Becky" Hammon, assistant coach of the San Antonio Spurs, became the first woman to fill the role of head coach in a regular season game, following the dismissal of Gregg Popovich during the match against the Los Angeles Lakers. This news caused a sensation, arousing messages of joy and encouragement. The hyperbolic reaction to this announcement led me to question why the promotion of Rebecca Hammon to head coach had become global news in the world of basketball? In 2020, a woman coaching a men's basketball team is a rarity, an exceptional event. The same was true for early Black players and coaches in the league, but these barriers were removed thanks to civil rights and equality advocates. The fact that coach Hammon’s promotion is surprising, albeit positively, is proof that in our “modern” societies, there are still exclusive roles, clichés, and jobs that are considered the prerogative of the male sex. In Italy, only one team participating in the women's Serie A championship is coached by a woman. 4athletes is determined to change perceptions so that women and girls can fully benefit from participating in sports as part of their equal rights.
Written by Jacopo Mulinacci
Edited by Christine Nanteza
Jacopo Mulinacci, aka Coach Jay, is a 30 year old husband and father of two. He has coached professional youth basketball teams in Bassano Del Grappa and San Martino di Lupari. and travelled around Europe to participate in leagues. Follow his story on Instagram @coach_jay_. Find out more about 4athletes and the company’s mission and vision on Instagram @4abasketball
For more: like, comment, share and subscribe