Summary of paper presented by Ashlee Othen at the ACHPER International Conference, Canberra 2017, based on the research of Roy Kirkby (Honorary Life Member, International Korfball Federation)


Attention to gender relations is increasingly being seen as urgent. As the aspirations of each gender increasingly overlap, there is a need for change in attitudes and power relationships.


Barriers to change in achieving gender equality (according to ASC Clearing House for Sport)

  • the negative impact of “masculine and hyper-masculine behaviours”, attitudes and values which result in gender-based discrimination.
  • the sports media message of the real man being strong, tough, aggressive and above all a winner.
  • the lack of role models particularly for women and the lack of exposure of the models when we have them.
  • limited involvement (e.g. leadership, administration, coaching, and player participation) in sport by women and girls including lack of or need for role models
  • gender stereotypes that contribute to young women dropping out and similarly men who do not fulfil the stereotype of the “manly man”
  • a lack of awareness of or commitment to strategies that contribute to continued participation, for example continuing to see the drop-out as gender-based rather than residing in the ways in which physical activities are constructed and presented.

Korfball and gender relations

We, as a dedicated mixed sport, are influenced by these barriers despite our history and structure as a sport. Korfball was invented by a school teacher over 100 years ago teaching in a mixed gender setting, wanting a sport where

  • both male and female could play together with no advantage to either gender
  • where gender cooperation for success would be an essential factor.

The rules help gender relationships by requiring:

  • Cooperation – no traveling with ball, no defended shooting
  • Channelled physical equality – no hindering opposite gender
  • All round ability –everyone needs to be attackers and defenders, feeders and shooters

But even with these ideological and structural positive steps we still have the possibilities of gender bias.


Possibilities of gender bias

  • On court   – shooting dominated by males and feeding by women and penalties taken by males
  • Support roles – coaches, referees and administrators male dominated

International criticism of korfball in the past

  • Males taking dominant roles for feeding shooting and penalties (Somerfield)
  • Korfball seen as  an example of where male dominant power relations pervades structure, organisation and language in PE and sport (Channon, Gubby, Vertinsky)

Some of the things we need to change at the international level

  • Perceived gender value of male over female
    • In the 2015 IKF World Championships top 30 scorers 27 are male 3 are female because it includes penalty shots mostly taken by males. Need to focus on dynamic goals.

Comparison Top Male/Female Goal Scorers IKF World Championships 2015

Scorers Goals Included penalty shots Dynamic shots
Top male (from Russia) 53 16 37
Top female (from China) 38 0 38
Top Australian male 45 25 20
Top Australian female 21 0 21


Note: In that competition 47% of Australia’s dynamic goals were scored by female players.

  • Need more females in decision making roles at higher levels –  referees, coaches and administrators
  • In the past support for change has been mixed from expected quarters
    • 1994 Korfball Australia receives Prime Ministerial Women and Sport Award “in recognition of your encouragement and support for women and girls in sport”.
    • Women’s Groups feared encouraging mixed sport would mean men would continue to dominate so our female successes in mixed setting not considered in their media.
  • In this era
    • we might expect that energy and resources by women’s groups might want to focus on gaining a higher profile by being involved in traditional men’s sports like Aussie Rule, cricket and soccer.
    • Some teachers may take the approach in teaching to consider a single gender’s perspective and attitudes as easier than trying to accommodate both.

What we seem to be doing right in improving gender relations

The Korfball Global Survey 2016


240 respondents from 25 countries on all continents. Fairly even distribution amongst 4 age ranges Under 20 to 0ver 40. Response from  players, coaches, referees, administrators and parents. Respondents could respond to as many factors as they wished


Observed Changes in Gender Relationships through Playing Korfball

Observed changes in gender relationships while playing korfball Boys Girls Men Women Total
They became more accepting of the other gender’s point of view 170 (74.56%) 151 (66.23%) 143 (62.72%) 121 (53.07%) 228
They became more cooperative in joint gender activities 183 (77.87%) 167 (71.06%) 159 (67.66%) 142 (60.43%) 235
They became more accepting of the other gender in a leadership role 131 (57.46%) 116 (50.88%) 159 (69.74%) 117 (51.32%) 228
They promote the involvement of the other gender 132 (58.41%) 141 (62.39%) 166 (73.45%) 164 (72.57%) 226
None of the above have been witnessed 12 (18.18%) 11 (16.67%) 10 (15.15%) 11 (16.67%) 66


Respondents were also given the opportunity to respond on any other aspects of gender relationships in korfball.



  • Greater respect between genders
  • No gender issue or not recognised as one especially at playing level
  • Teachers noted better behaved males, and females more likely to speak out
  • New korfball countries see korfball as a means of enhancing social development (e.g. Dominican Republic and  Zimbabwe)


  • Decision maker’s dominance of males
    • This is particularly marked at senior national and international levels

Male to Female Ratios in Recognised Technical Expertise

Korfball Group (total number) Ratio of male to female (approximate)
IKF Coach Course Instructors A + B levels (13) 13 to 0
IKF International Referees 8 to 1
England registered coaches 5 to 4
England registered referees 3 to 2
Catalonia  (Spain)registered coaches 7 to 3
Catalonia (Spain) registered referees 4 to 1
Australia registered coaches 2 to 1
Australia coaches in training 1 to 2
Australia registered referees 3 to 1
Australia referees in training 1 to 3

As you can see, in Australia we are correcting the difference in ratio to have a more equal distribution in future. Some reasons for this are outlined below.


Challenges and solutions

  • Female involvement encouraged in decision making roles at all levels
    • procedural justice is required for this whereby women can see that procedures are fair and open leading towards developing knowledge and skills required for decision making roles and when they are achieved that there is a fair environment for satisfaction in those roles e.g. in becoming a referee – there is appropriate support when they are referees with appropriate expectations of players and coaches
  • The Game needs to become more gender neutral
    • role of coaches to change from emphasis on gender roles in play
    • Dutch World Champions Coach, Wim Scholtmeijer said, “New korfball .. is about all players (male and female) doing all things” 
      • Australian elite coaching similar.
      • Australian National Player Theresa Coletti makes the observation:

        “The change in the way we play .. to a more dynamic model appears to have improved gender relations. Decisions are made more on directions from the coach rather than (traditional) gender role expectations leading to inequality.”

  • Concepts of the game internationally need to broaden what is targeted and valued sport’s role in community should not just be competitive but seen as social too, for example;
    • In the Dominican Republic korfball gets resources support from the Department of Gender Affairs and Financial Inclusion where korfball is seen as a means of improving gender relations while improving the status of women (T.Cohn-Loi, 2016).
    • In Zimbabwe they include korfball, among other means, to improve gender relations including a reduction in domestic violence for which they have received support through grants from the United Nations Office of Sport Development and Peace (T. Chadebah, 2016)
  • Governments’ and educational agencies likewise need to broaden their understanding and recognition of the role of mixed sport in the community
    • national support based mainly on competitive roles is too limiting e.g. Olympics involvement
    • state inter-school competitions focus on single gender sport
    • locally, e.g. in schools there is a need to question the gender value of sports and the way mixed sport and PE is taught.
  • The Australian curriculum in PE supporting social development
  • Strategies in the mixed classroom

Korfball Gender Awareness Challenge

Based on the approach of Lisa Smith, P.E.teacher, Hillmorton High School, New Zealand and Roy Kirkby, Adelaide, Australia


It is often difficult introducing korfball, especially to teenagers brought up in single gender sports; to get them to think and act differently from their traditional gender stereotype ways.


This approach is designed for use prior to taking up korfball or in the early stages. The challenge is questions you might ask students. The responses and considerations should come from the students with a guide included in the table.


Details of the Korfball Gender Awareness Challenge are available online



Success in improving gender relations requires a commitment of activity leaders such as coaches, referees, administrators and teachers to the following:-

  • A belief we can achieve gender equality in outcomes.
  • Procedural justice is required for both genders to succeed
  • Participants bringing to activities a range of attitudes that need to be challenged
  • Gender neutral activities are more likely to improve gender relations
  • All administrative and other decision making levels need to value, support and enable equal gender involvement and outcomes

Korfball provides a platform for rapid socialisation into cross-gender understanding, shared accomplishments, mutual respect and valuing the other gender.


Any mixed education activity should provide the same platform.


Selected references