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COMMENT: Shooting hoops and hitting sixes: Women’s leagues are here to stay

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COMMENT: Shooting hoops and hitting sixes: Women’s leagues are here to stay

A sportswoman performing in a pole jump event (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A sportswoman performing in a pole jump event (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Photo by Donovan Bailey

A sportswoman performing in a pole jump event (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Photo by Donovan Bailey

Photo by Donovan Bailey

A sportswoman performing in a pole jump event (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Elisha Hammond, Reporter

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For too long, Australia’s prized cabinet of sporting role models has been primarily male-based.

But the recent establishment of national mainstream women’s teams in AFL, rugby and soccer leagues has proven that sportswomen and athletes are here to stay.

Since 2014, the profile of women’s sporting leagues in Australia has dramatically increased and in those last five years alone massive gains have been made as they compete both here in Australia and on an international stage.

In 2017, the AFL established a women’s league, and as it stands ten teams are involved with four more set to join in 2020.

The women’s rugby league now has both national and state teams competing for glory.

Also off the back of the Matilda’s stunning win in the FFA Cup of Nations, it’s clear the leagues are proving popular with emerging Aussie fans. 

Nowadays, the need for equal gender representation both on the field and in the press is more important than ever.

Female athletes continue to be social role models for Aussie kids, both on and off the field. They embody Australian values like sportsmanship, health, teamwork, and their example is particularly important for young women.

According to Women in Sport, “Girls are less active than boys by age 13 – 15” and on top of that, just “8% of girls meet the Chief Medical Officer’s recommendation that young people aged 5 – 18 should do 60 minutes of physical activity every day.”

In a statement released by Women Sport Australia, President Carol Fox spoke to the prolific nature and value of our female stars.

“Award winners including Sam Kerr, Ellyse Perry, Cate Campbell and Evonne Goolagong Cawley aren’t just household names in Australia – they are world stars.

“Women’s sport in Australia has never been stronger and it’s high time our female champions were recognised not just with red carpet award nights, but with a fair living wage, equal conditions on and off the field and equal media time and space.”

Even though the increase in the popularity of women’s leagues is a recent phenomenon, sportspeople have been campaigning for equality in sports for decades.

In 1974, tennis star Billie Jean King created the Women’s Sport Foundation to promote and create more leadership opportunities for women in the sporting arena.

Since then, the call for equality on the field has grown louder and louder. Several Australian institutions (such as Women Sport Australia and the Women’s Electoral Lobby) have been petitioning hard for equality both on and off the field.

The results of their hard work are increasingly clear.

Chris Abbott, representative for the West Australian Institute of Sport, said that major sporting codes have made a difference by putting their energy into strategies that bring women’s leagues to the forefront.

“It wasn’t without a challenges,” he noted. “Obviously there were negative social media comments, the continuous and useless comparisons to men’s sport, and the women’s leagues needing to compete for space and attention against one another in the increasingly short window between the men’s international cricket season and the juggernaut that is AFL.

“However, year by year, the organic growth and interest for women’s sport is self-evident.”

But despite a well documented increase in the popularity of women’s sports, there’s still more ground to be broken on a corporate level.

Gender studies Professor Beth Fielding-Lloyd said the network of committees and chairpeople in sporting clubs makes it complex for strong female leaders to penetrate the ‘old boys networks.’

“This labyrinth serves to make it difficult to understand where the responsibility for gender equality in football governance lies and has excluded women with relevant experience from contributing to the development of the sport,” she said.

The WAIS also admits there’s still a way to come when it comes to increasing the profile of the AFLW and other women’s leagues.

Abbott said: “I think the next challenge is to debunk the notion that ‘women’s sport’ is a sub category in the first place. Every one of us across the community needs to learn to see sport as sport, regardless of gender. This will benefit not only participation, but will also assist in helping to achieve more inclusive, active and healthier societies.

“If I can use the example of Olympic sport, when an athlete competes for their country and attempts to win medals and the nation is proud of that success, irrespective of whether they are man or woman. When we look at a medal tally at the end, it reflects the achievements of both.” 

There’s no doubt we’ve come a long way when it comes to gender representation in Australian sports.

But if we want to ensure sportswomen are as widely celebrated as our sportsmen, club committees and board members need to come to the table.

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About the Writer
Elisha Hammond, Reporter

Elisha is a curious thinker with a soft spot for strange words and strong coffee. She spends her time dreaming up big ideas and doing far too much online...

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COMMENT: Shooting hoops and hitting sixes: Women’s leagues are here to stay