May 28, 2024

Breaking Barriers: Taking Steps Towards True Equality in Sports

Clementine shares what inspired her and the journey to bringing safer sporting environments for women
by Clementine PainterDirector Strategic Planning · Global Sales - Sustainability

As a child, I was always a sporty kid. I loved dancing and playing tennis, but team sports were never an option for me. The idea of girls participating in these sports was utterly out of the norm—I was never even offered the opportunity to try. Looking back on my childhood, I feel sad for the little girl who missed out on something she might have loved.

Now, years later, I have a daughter of my own. I was thrilled when she came home from kindergarten and told me she wanted to play football! I immediately began to search for a place for her to get involved and soon visited a local club to register her on a girls' team—but there wasn’t one. She had to play on a team of all boys, and, needless to say, she didn’t enjoy it.

It crushed me that this barrier could end her football journey at just six years old. I wasn’t going to let that happen.

Finding support from your peers and driving change

When I shared my daughter's experience with some of my adidas colleagues, one of them happened to be related to a coach for a girls' team not too far away. Now that she has a team of her peers to play with, she is thriving! She is truly happy. I can't help but wonder if opportunities like this would have been possible when I was her age.

That’s why I created the adidas Breaking Barriers Project. For girls like my daughter. For women like me.

Since we embarked on the project in 2020, we’ve heard more positive feedback from our 15 nonprofit partners and localized Breaking Barrier ambassadors who we call our Champions. We still felt we wanted to reach more people, athletes, coaches, and leaders, but how?

Here comes the adidas Breaking Barriers Academy

Our response to the need for broader reach and education was the adidas Breaking Barriers Academy. This free, online gender equity training program is designed to help everyone—regardless of previous experience—take the first step towards achieving true equality in sports. The Academy offers a range of courses, interactive activities, theoretical frameworks, and exclusive insights from industry professionals.

We wanted anyone to be able to enroll in one of our courses and immediately have access, so that they could join us in our ambition to make sport equal for women and girls.

The Academy allows us to scale our impact. The platform helps people gain the tools they need to make a difference in their own communities, driving change in areas that we wouldn’t have been able to reach previously. With courses focused on gender-inclusive leadership, creating safer sporting environments, menstrual awareness, and more, we constantly keep up with best practices to ensure everyone is included on the journey to make sport equal.

As of today, we have over 1,500 users engaged with the Academy - and we aren’t planning on slowing down. With new courses and translations into several languages on the horizon, the future looks bright for our gender equity training program.

The things we planned for and the things we didn’t

We’re now in the fifth year of the Breaking Barriers Project. I am so proud to have been a part of something that has proven time and time again to bring people together and change lives through sport.

It hasn’t been an easy journey, but we have converted setbacks into opportunities at every turn.

When we noticed a need for a comprehensive analysis of the barriers for girls in sports across Europe, we stepped up and conducted the research ourselves.

adidas Breaking Barriers Champions from La Rotllana, Spain.

When girls and women were lacking role models in the world of sports, we set up a mentorship program to pair adidas staff with our Champions. One mentor, Kimberlee, is now in her third year of mentoring two Champions – helping them advocate for themselves, progress in their careers, and develop leadership skills. Other mentors are dedicated to supporting our non-profits through organizing clothing drives, setting up meetings with local governing bodies, and actively using the adidas name to open doors and create opportunities for women and girls.

When we realized the sports industry needed support to evolve and improve gender equity, we created a program to empower entrepreneurs working on solutions to address girls' barriers to participation in sports. Now called the Breaking Barriers Innovation Lab, this program helps take women-led and women-focused startups to the next level yearly.

"I have experienced that sometimes you just need a little push. Sometimes, you just need the right environment to flourish."

Clementine PainterDirector Strategic Planning

We can have this snowball effect where when we give the tools, time, knowledge, and skills to a small group of people, they will share them with their community and beyond.

What I’m most proud of, however, are the victories we didn’t plan for—the ones we never could have seen coming.

For example, one of our Implementing Partners in Italy, Balon Mundial, re-elected its board last year. For the first time in its history, more women than men are on the board! The head of the board is a woman who went through the Breaking Barriers curriculum herself, and two of the members are Breaking Barriers Champions. We are so proud that they jumped at the chance to lead change within their organization.

A bright future ahead

The future looks promising for the Breaking Barriers Project, and we’re continuing to push the boundaries necessary to change the game.

adidas Breaking Barriers Champions from En Frisk, Sweden.

We recently launched the newest Breaking Barriers Academy course, It’s Time to Talk. Period: Advancing Menstrual Awareness in Sports.  Twenty-five percent of girls globally drop out of sports during adolescence, and 65% of menstruators report period 'leaking’ as their number one concern when playing sports. Still, no one in the industry was willing to act or speak about it.  

So, we decided to start the conversation ourselves. If we educate the sports industry about the different needs of menstruating players, we can directly impact their continued participation in sports. If we can work to break our own biases against periods, we can reshape the narrative that built the barriers in the first place. 

"If you don’t talk about it, you can’t understand it. If we don’t offer girls a bit more insight, some of them will have no insight at all."

Clementine PainterDirector Strategic Planning

The Well HQ—one of our former Breaking Barriers Innovation Lab startups—partnered with us to bring this academy course to life. Their expertise in women’s health allowed us to create learning material that not only explores menstruation’s relationship with sports but also its physiological importance.  They also helped us take this course’s content to the next level with in-person Menstrual Awareness Workshops for young athletes across Europe. These interactive, engaging sessions have been a huge success with our friends at Manchester United and FC Rosengard – with many more to come!  

We aren’t afraid to do the work needed to keep women and girls in the game, and the It’s Time to Talk. Period: Advancing Menstrual Awareness in Sports course is the perfect example. Check out the course to see for yourself!

adidas Breaking Barriers Staff, Champions, adidas employees and partners during adidas campus visit, Germany.

Every day, we continue to work on the Project, and we become closer and closer to a world where girls, like my daughter, can just play the game.

Here’s to continuing to break barriers.