AKC Code of Sportsmanship – Breaking Boundaries
In my role as a mentor for owner handlers, one particular topic is coming up with increasing frequency in group and individual sessions. Did you know that more than 80 percent of exhibitors, professional or owner handlers, are women? And yet, the AKC Code of Sportsmanship only references Sports(man)ship. What about all the women in the Sport?
Despite women’s significant presence and contributions to the Sport, a noticeable oversight persists within the AKC Code of Sportsmanship—it solely references Sports(man)ship. The time has come to shine a spotlight on the immense role played by women in our community.
For decades, women have been a vital part of the dog show world, pouring their passion, dedication, and expertise into the care and presentation of their dogs. Their contributions extend far beyond the show ring, with many excelling as breeders, trainers, judges, and mentors to newcomers. Many of these key influencers operate both publicly and behind the scenes at AKC, and there have been many “firsts” among the organization’s female leaders.
Dr. Jacklyn Hungerland was the first woman on the Board of Directors (1985). Judith V. Daniels was the first woman President (2019). Irene Bivin was the first female member of the Executive Field Staff. Anne Bolus was the first woman in charge of Field Reps, and Gina DiNardo is AKC’s first female Executive Secretary. There are many more, of course, and it is no exaggeration to say that women have been the backbone of this Sport, fostering its growth and success through their unwavering committment.
For decades, women have been a vital part of the dog show world, pouring their passion, dedication, and expertise into the care and presentation of their dogs.
Change Is Coming
It is high time to acknowledge that the existing language within the historically-termed, 19th Century language of the “AKC Code of Sportsmanship” might inadvertently diminish the significance of all these remarkable, contributing women. By referring only to Sports(man)ship, the Code overlooks the vast majority of exhibitors who are female.
We are over 20 years into the 21st Century, and the AKC has yet to see fit to update the language of the Code. As the Sport evolves and embraces inclusivity and equality, the time has come to rectify this oversight and recognize the vital role played by women in every aspect of the dog show world.
We must rewrite the Code of Sports(man)ship to be gender-inclusive, ensuring that everyone, regardless of gender, is acknowledged and celebrated for their dedication, integrity, and camaraderie in the Sport. By embracing a more inclusive and progressive language, the AKC can set a powerful example for the entire dog show community, inspiring a future where everyone’s contributions are equally valued and respected.
What Does the New Code Look Like?
My personal preference is to replace the word “Sportsmanship” with “Sports-one-ship” and “Sportsperson”; however, there are several possibilities. Others might substitute words such as individuals, competitors, or exhibitors, but that deletes the “Sports—ship,” which is the whole point of the Code. Here’s what it might sound like:
PREFACE: The Sport of purebred dog competitive events dates prior to 1884, the year of AKC’s birth. Shared values of those involved in the Sport include principles of Sports-one-ship. They are practiced in all sectors of our Sport: Conformation, Performance, and Companion. Many believe that these principles of Sports-one-ship are the prime reason why our Sport has thrived for over one hundred years. With the belief that it is useful to periodically articulate the fundamentals of our Sport, this Code is presented.
- Sportspersons respect the history, traditions, and integrity of the Sport of purebred dogs.
- Sportspersons commit themselves to values of fair play, honesty, courtesy, and vigorous competition, as well as winning and losing with grace.
- Sportspersons refuse to compromise their commitment and obligation to the Sport of purebred dogs by injecting personal advantage or consideration into their decisions or behavior.
- The Sports-one judge judges only on the merits of the dogs and considers no other factors.
The word “Sportsman” has no place in our language at this moment in time.
The Next Generation
Recognizing the accomplishments of women in dog shows can serve as a powerful source of inspiration for the next generation of exhibitors. Young girls who dream of participating in the Sport should see a reflection of themselves in the mentors, breeders, and handlers they revere. By celebrating the achievements of women, we empower these aspiring exhibitors to pursue their passion with confidence and determination, knowing that they, too, have a place in this vibrant community.
By celebrating the achievements of women, we empower these aspiring exhibitors to pursue their passion with confidence and determination, knowing that they, too, have a place in this vibrant community.
As a mentor of primarily women owner handlers, as a multi-Group judge, and as a long-standing member of the dog show community, I urge all Sportspersons to engage in open conversations about this matter. Let us amplify women’s voices, sharing their experiences, challenges, and triumphs. Let us highlight their achievements and celebrate their unwavering commitment to the dogs’ welfare and the advancement of the Sport.
By updating the Code to 21st Century language and sentiment, we can ensure that the Code becomes a true reflection of the diverse individuals who make up the Sport of Dogs. This paves the way for a future where Sports-one-ship knows no boundaries, and the spirit of camaraderie unites us all as passionate and devoted members of this beloved community.