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Canberra Conversation: Women in Sport

Ashleigh Went

I was recently invited to attend the latest in the University of Canberra and Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis’ Canberra Conversation series: Women in Sport.

At this event, five panellists including Labor Senator and former Chief Minister Katy Gallagher, sports lawyer and co-founder of Women on Boards Catherine Ordway, CEO of Capital Football Heather Reid AM and world individual pursuit (track cycling) champion Rebecca Wiasak discussed representation and recognition of women in sport.

You could say that women’s sport in Australia is currently ‘having a moment’.

Our Diamonds beat New Zealand’s Silver Ferns to secure their third straight Netball World Cup title, our Southern Stars recently regained the Women’s Ashes, the Matildas made it to the quarter final of the Women’s World Cup and the Opals have qualified for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

In short, we’re killing it. Which raises more than a few questions. In light of these victories, and given that women make up approximately 50% of the planet’s population, it leaves you wondering why (according to the New South Wales Department of Sport and Recreation), women make up only:

  • 20% of Presidents of Chairpersons of sporting organisations;
  • 30% of board positions; and
  • 20% of state coaching positions

The ‘Towards a Level Playing Field: Sport and Gender in Australian Media’ report prepared for the Australian Sports Commission revealed that women feature in only 7% of non-news sports programming on television. In terms of news coverage, it’s pretty deplorable too. If you break it down, horse racing received more news coverage than all women’s sport combined.

It really makes you wonder…

Where are our sportswomen?

Certainly not getting enough time on our TV screens. In fact, some sporting bodies like Netball Australia actually pay broadcasters production costs in order to have games televised. You wouldn’t find that in the NRL, that’s for sure.

Obviously some sports are more popular than others, NRL probably being one of the best examples (and perhaps the most lucrative). You have to wonder though, are women’s sports less exciting? Less dramatic? Less victorious?

I doubt it. Our female athletes are nothing short of amazing, and the success of our national teams in football, cricket, netball and basketball demonstrate that pretty clearly. If you’ve ever sat courtside at a Diamonds game, you’ll know that our women’s sports have real entertainment value.

It’s not just air time that our athletes are missing out on. At Canberra Conversations, world individual pursuit (track cycling) champion Rebecca Wiasak spoke about the challenge of securing sponsorships and funding to be able to pursue sport at an elite level. It’s no secret that women’s sports lacks the funding that many of it’s male counterparts receive, and this funnels down to affect our athletes on an individual and team level and threatens to deter women from pursuing their sporting dreams.

On a local level, look at our own Kris Britt, captain of the ACT Meteors women’s cricket team. After playing local club cricket, and representing ACT, South Australia for nine years and Australia for 6 or 7 years, Kris has had an astounding career, yet still balances a full time job in recruitment. Although she says she’s lucky that she has an employer whose supportive, she concedes that it can be tricky, especially during the cricket season where she says her role in the ACT Meteors has “pretty much become a part-time job now”.

Where are our women in leadership positions?

In March 2013, the Australian Sports Commission made an announcement that the boards of all of the 55 National Sporting Organisations (NSOs) that they fund would be required to meet a 40 percent target of female directors. Although this certainly isn’t a reflection of our cultural representation, it is substantially higher than the percentage of directors in many other industries across the globe.

According to Women on Boards, an organisation co-founded by Catherine Ordway, as of 2014 only 16 of those boards met that requirement. Of those 16, only five had a female President.

It makes you wonder, is there a shortage of candidates?

Well, no. Over 18,000 women are registered with Women on Boards. That’s a lot of women who are lining up for these kinds of leadership roles.

Since the Australian Sports Commission implemented their governance principal, the average of female representation on NSO boards rose from 27% to 36% – a not insignificant improvement.

Well, then, is it a skills shortage?

That’s pretty doubtful. Many women come from backgrounds that more than qualify them for these kind of leadership roles – whether that’s experience in an office environment, or indeed on the playing field.

Catherine Ordway uses the analogy of Women’s Cricket Association which was dissolved and ultimately became Cricket Australia, where the women lost their leadership positions. One such woman was Dame Quentin Bryce – good enough to represent the Queen, but not Australian Cricket, it would seem.

While we’ve come a long way since then, there’s definitely more that can be done to improve the representation and recognition of women in sport, particularly in Australia.

Heather Reid AM, CEO of Capital Football says that real, sustainable change can only occur when individuals or organisations challenge the way that the system works.

What can we do? We can show up to games. We can watch women’s sport on the odd occasion that it does appear on our TV screens. We can apply for leadership positions with sports organisations. We can register with organisations like Women on Boards. We can chase our sporting dreams and continue to support our female athletes. And perhaps most importantly, we can make our voices heard and speak up for recognition, respect and fair representation.



Ashleigh Went

HerCanberra ACTIVE Editor Ashleigh Went has a passion for all things health and wellness. As someone who loves champagne and cheese almost as she loves a sweaty workout, she's all about living a healthy, balanced lifestyle. She can usually be found with her nose in a book, planning her next adventure, in the gym or updating her Instagram @wentworthavenue. More about the Author