Let us get back to work: women’s sport ready for the challenges ahead

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons
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Female athletes are working hard behind the scenes so they’ll be ready the minute they can get back on the field. Julia Clugston reports.

The focus might be on the return of the men’s AFL and rugby seasons, but elite female athletes are confident the momentum behind women’s sport is still on track.

Western Bulldogs AFLW midfielder Kirsty Lamb has been training at home like the rest of her team, keen to make sure she can come back stronger than ever.

“I have no doubt that the financial implications that covid-19 will have on all sports will hurt in one way, shape or form,” Lamb said.

However, “looking how the competition has improved, we’re confident we will still be going”.

Western Bulldogs mascots. Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Her usual next step would be to play in the VFL over winter, though the future of that is uncertain. It was reported this week that some VFL clubs were meeting the AFL in the hopes of getting a limited competition up. It is unknown if this would include the women.

But if the men played in the VFL, the women would too, Lamb said. “I think the way the world is going with gender equity, that you can’t run one without the other.”

Lamb, who works full-time for the Australian Cricket Association, said the benchmark for women’s sport is women’s cricket.

“I have seen the way women’s cricket has progressed over the last 10 years. And then to be living the life of an AFLW footballer, you can see where that is going.

“I think cricket is leading the way in terms of it being a bit more professional and paying your players more, and I think other sports will look to use cricket as their benchmark.”

Meanwhile, Lamb keeps training, in hope. “I am still doing three runs, three gyms, three extra sessions, whether they be a bike, or a pilates or whatever they might be. We’re still looking at, give or take, 6-10 sessions a week.”

Melbourne Vixens netball centre pocket-rocket Tayla Honey is looking forward to getting on court as soon as possible.

“The focus being on AFL and NRL returns does sting a little bit,” she said.

“Women’s sport is increasingly growing among society and hopefully soon it does start to get more recognition.”

She said the sport didn’t get the same opportunities and media coverage as AFLW and rugby, which cut into the potential.

“[But] I believe the only way is up from here, as women’s sport has increasingly been given more attention,” she said.  

Honey has played netball for 11 years and after being injured for last year’s season she is hoping to get on court again soon. “I was super excited to finally get going once we got the green light.”

The 2020 Suncorp Super Netball competition was scheduled to start on May 2, but under current restrictions they were told they could not train until at least May 31. A final decision on the season has not been made.

Collingwood AFLW defender Lauren Butler said that while the sport had been becoming more popular, it still didn’t get the recognition it deserved.

Collingwood defender Lauren Butler. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

“Initially there was fear [for our future] because the AFLW is so new, we don’t really provide a lot financially for the AFL,” Lamb said.

“At the start I was a bit nervous, will we still be able to be a thing or get as much as we have now. Speaking with the AFL Players Association, I think … they’re pretty confident we will still be going.

“I don’t know what the future holds, I am pretty excited though. Looking at the past 12 months and how the competition has improved, just keep working hard, and use the resources that are given to us.

“I think it is going to take a fair bit of time, you just have to keep pushing for equality and for things to be better.”

She said she was spending the lockdown period at home and trying to keep as fit as possible.

“We’ve got training programs, running and gym to do but we pretty much just have to do it on our own.

“I am very lucky that I am living with my family so I can go running with my brother or my mum. That keeps me motivated.”

Patrick Quigley, President of the Ballarat Highlanders Rugby Club, had a women’s 7 Rugby team ready to go for the 2020 season, and is now unsure if it can commence.

“Rugby is a brutal sport, it is very much full contact so like all other team sports, we haven’t been able to play.”

Quigley was excited for this season as he knows there is a demand for women’s sport, especially in rural areas.

“I believe that rugby has always been inclusive, there is a place for everybody on the pitch whether you are male, female a child or whatever. That is what I am trying to bring to the highlanders.”

When the season is set to start again, Quigley is looking forward to the momentum that will bring.

“I think there is a demand for women’s sport In the traditional perceived – and I stress the word perceived – male codes, so I have absolutely every faith that our women’s program will be up and running and the momentum will be regained as soon as the restrictions are clarified and lifted.

“The vast majority of players are looking forward to coming back to training and playing.”