One in three people playing footy are girls or women.
Six out of ten new cricketers are girls.
It’s an exciting time for women in sport as we see an increase of media coverage of elite female athletes, growing support for women’s leagues, further investment into the field and strong female voices advocating for equality in the sporting world.
It’s also a time of increased divisiveness and controversy.
Former AFLW player Jane* said, “people don’t see me as an athlete because I look different, so I’ve seen lots of negative comments.”
Hate directed by trolls on social media for female athletes appears to be all too common, with the unveiling of the Tayla Harris statue, unleashing a renewed tirade of abuse.
The CEO of Sport Australia, Kate Palmer was disappointed in the response, particularly by commentators in the media.
She said the statue of Tayla Harris is a great symbol of “communities [standing] up and [saying] why wouldn’t we have an image of an athlete like that? Why wouldn’t we and why are we trying to hide the fact that females are strong, physical athletes?”
Brooke Fox has played over 250 games for the Eastern Devils, a Mulgrave football club, and was recognised with the 2019 Swiss Best off Ground award after the person who nominated her said, “without Foxy’s hard work and dedication, the club may not exist and many of today’s rising AFL Women’s stars would not have had the opportunity to shine.”
She’s been proud to see her team mates drafted into the AFLW competition but says she is disappointed by the online hate targeted at female footballers.
“I understand people get criticised whether they’re male or female in sport all the time. The public is pretty ruthless. But I guess for the girls, they’re always trying to prove the point that they are good enough,” she said.
For Jane “the positive [comments] have always stood out more” and while she doesn’t consider herself to be a role model she says “it’s awesome to be a part of a group of women who are playing the game so many young children love and showing them that everyone can play the game and giving them people to be like”.
While some commentary online and from media personalities has been damaging to the gender equality movement in the sporting world, Palmer said that overall sport reporting has come a long way.
“If you look now there’s a shift in the media, especially the written media and even actually the broadcasters, where they talk about the individual, so we know about the stars.”
Fox describes the football scene for women when she started playing nearly 20 years ago as “unheard of”.
“You were seen as an odd bunch who play football because there was no media exposure at all to it.
“Unless you played or knew someone who played, you didn’t know anything about it,” she said.
Paralympian, Rae Anderson agrees that progress has been made in media coverage of women’s sport but has concerns about how inclusive the broadcasting is.
“I think we’re doing great media-wise to be live streaming things like the netball and the state of origin for women was on TV as well, but you don’t get to see that much visibility of people with disabilities competing,” she said.
“I feel like the media has such a powerful role in different aspects of our society that it could do a lot.”
Anderson attended her first Commonwealth Games in 2014, as the youngest team member on the athletics team and went on to the 2016 Rio Paralympics to represent Australia in discus and javelin.
She said, “especially in para sport, I think there are a lot of barriers to succeed.”
She said funding is a particular obstacle for para-athletes as well as how sport for people living with disabilities is discussed.
“That’s the hardest bit. It’s where we stand in society and
how the sport is viewed. Making it seem as elite as it is rather than the whole
pat on your back kind of thing.”
Jo Wotton is a part-time sport broadcaster for the AFL and AFLW and said, “I think a greater diversity of voices, whether that be gender, culture, age, background… would improve sports coverage across a range of sports.”
In order to see further equality in the sporting world, “we need activism to change attitudes and bring about social change,” she said.
According to Anderson, if we expect people to make sport more inclusive, we need to educate them on how to go about it.
“We can’t expect people to be inclusive if they don’t know how,” she said.
Gender inequality is still rife in the sporting world with the gender pay gap a glaring example of this.
Sportswomen earn nearly $25,000 less than their male counterparts, according to the Australian Bureau for Statistics.
The situation is even more dire when you take a look at professional sport.
Even taking into consideration that the AFLW is a new league, and that less games are played in the season compared to the AFL, on average AFL male players will earn 38 times the salary of female players.
If the Australian Women’s Soccer team, the Matildas were to have won the World Cup, they would have received $4 dollars in prize money – that’s half of what the Socceroos earned just for qualifying for the competition.
Jobs at Pizza Hut and Uber are just some of the part-time jobs players from the Matildas have taken on to compensate for their small incomes.
The gender pay gap has become a highly debated issue online and, in the media, but sporting leagues are still making great strides in addressing the issue.
In both tennis and surfing, men and women receive the same prize money at all major tournaments and cricket Australia now pays the same hourly base rate to all players.
Palmer said, “we’re making progress, but we can’t get complacent.”
For her, achieving equality in sport goes beyond equal pay.
“It’s about equality of opportunity,” she said, which can in some cases be as simple as ensuring sporting facilities are accessible for everyone.
Fox said, “it’s really encouraging to see that the government has been pushing for development of those facilities that particularly have female participants in mind when they are building them and making them more friendly towards all participants in sport.
“We don’t want anything special. We’re not asking for a Taj Mahal to set up our change rooms in. We just want to have access to facilities and equipment, game day procedures that same as a men’s club would.”
$150 million will be invested by the federal government over the next four years to address the need for female change room facilities at sporting clubs across Australia.
Palmer said in order to see cultural change in Australia it’s “critical to make sure that we actually educate people”.
“It’s about having conversations,” she said.
For Palmer, these discussions need to extend beyond the male and female binaries and be more inclusive of all shades of diversity.
“It’s not women’s sport. It’s not men’s sport. In fact now that we acknowledge that there are a range of genders and gender diverse people in Australia, sport is for everyone.”