Forty years ago, Title IX was enstated, forever changing the landscape of youth sports in America to be equally inclusive regardless of gender. Wednesday began a three-day, national conference about Title IX hosted by the University’s Sport, Health and Activity Research and Policy Center for Women and Girls — a collaborative organization comprising the Women’s Sports Foundation, the University’s Institute for Research on Women and Gender, and the School of Kinesiology.

The conference featured panels, poster sessions and speeches by athletes, academics and the leaders of several national organizations.

Wednesday, Laila Ali, a former champion boxer and currently the president of WSF, started the conference by speaking to a crowd of about 200 people at Rackham Ampitheatre about Title IX and gender in sports.

“It’s not really about men or about women, it’s about everybody having an opportunity,” Ali said. “That’s what people seem to forget. If things were fair, we wouldn’t have to have a Title IX.”

She added that while Title IX became law 40 years ago, there are still obstacles that are being overcome.

“Women’s boxing is just now becoming an Olympic sport and I’m very excited about that,” Ali said. “I didn’t have that opportunity when I started boxing.”

Ali also spoke about the uplifting power of Title IX. Overweight and unconfident girls can raise their self-esteem and better themselves through athletics, according to Ali.

“Life can break us down, but I feel that sports can build us back up,” Ali said

Kathryn Olson, the CEO of WSF, said sports can help women grow in several aspects of life.

“We want people to understand the benefit of sport for girls and young women and I personally want people to take it to the next level and look at what sports has done for women in terms of leadership, education and career growth,” she said.

As a co-director of SHARP, Katherine Babiak — a University professor in the School of Kinesiology — said this is SHARP’s first year in existence and that she’s was pleased with the event.

“This conference is one of our first big major events and initiatives and we’re really thrilled with the turnout,” Babiak said. “Having been involved in sport all my life I think that it is really important to make sure that girls and women always have access to opportunities for sport.”

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