Not a luxury: campaign launched to provide sports bras and remove participation barriers

For many women and girls, the ability to buy a sports bra is taken for granted. The very concept of feeling discomfort while exercising is alien to a lot of us, who have the money needed to buy one and time to have it correctly fitted. In the age of active wear, some even have a few. But for many other young women, a sports bra is a luxury they cannot afford on top of basic living expenses. The result is often that they simply do not play sport.

In 2018, New Yorker Sarah Dwyer-Shick sought to change this, begin The Sports Bra Project to facilitate the donation of new sports bras from companies and individuals to give to those facing barriers to participation which can, on the surface, be remedied.

The American project has so far channelled more than 7,000 donated bras to 55 organisations across 26 lande. Now it is coming to Australia, after Women Sport Australia on Tuesday announced it has partnered with The Sports Bra Project to source local bras it can provide to local communities, particularly remote Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory and also those affected by the floods in Queensland and New South Wales.

“A sports bra is obviously a piece of equipment that is unique to girls and women, and if you don’t have the right support there you’re not going to want to play sport,” said Women Sport Australia president Gen Dohrmann, who is also chief executive of Table Tennis Victoria and a dance teacher.

“I work in different sports in Melbourne and everyone has access to sports bras, but I think there’s definitely lots of remote communities around Australia where that definitely wouldn’t be the case.

“It’s targeting those women and girls who aren’t already playing sport because they have to spend their pay cheque on food and shelter and bills.

“To be able to bring some of this initiative where people are donating new sports bras to be able to get out to remote Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory and potentially at the moment those affected by floods. That’s where we’ll be concentrating our efforts.”

The process operates via the website, where individuals and companies can donate independently or as part of an organised drive, and where individuals, communities and sporting clubs can register to become a recipient. Dohrmann said Women Sport Australia then conduct due diligence to ensure resources are distributed where they are most needed.

The initiative has already been tested at local fundraisers and talks are under way with bra manufacturers, including Under Armour, who may donate some of its unused stock to the cause. Another is Brava Lingerie which specialises in plus-sized busts ranging from D to K cup sizes.

“We want to make sure we’re not just getting 10B bras donated,” Dohrmann said. “We ask people to donate the size of bra that you wear so we get a real range of sizes.”

The project is also set to receive some of the bras produced for the Australian athletes who competed at the Tokyo 2020 Olimpiese Spele.

Among the supporters is Australian Paralympic gold medallist, Madison de Rozario. “The Sports Bra Project is such a practical way to give support to women and girls who want to participate in sport but can’t always get access to the right gear," sy het gese. “We know that physical activity plays a significant role in improving health, building stronger communities and giving people a purpose.”

Inspiration for the original Sports Bra Project began in Africa, where Dwyer-Shick, a long-time football coach with expertise in youth development and increasing access to sports for girls and women, gifted sports bras to young players in rural Namibia. She discovered that many members of the Namibian National Women’s football team had never owned this basic piece of equipment, and that the problem was not requested to this one country.

Dohrmann said sport should not be considered a luxury for any young woman.

“We just want to make sure if they can feel more confident in getting out for a run or going down to the local playground and doing some exercises or the local basketball court," sy het gese. “If they actually have a sports bra that’s going to open up a door for them.”

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