Our Attitude To Women's Sport Is A Complete Balls Up

29/08/2015 6:36 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
Michael Dodge via Getty Images
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 16: A Tattoo on an arm is seen on a Demon player during a Women's AFL exhibition match between Western Bulldogs and Melbourne at Etihad Stadium on August 16, 2015 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

I grew up in the 1970s. I say this not to engender comments from those younger and smarter than myself of 'wow, you're really old' and 'was the iPhone 5 out then?', but rather to point out how much things have changed when it comes to women in sport, and the way we perceive them.

Or perhaps not.

This was pre-AFL, when the V in VFL stood for 'so very Victorian'. The Swans were South Melbourne FC, the Lions roared in Fitzroy, rather than Brisvegas, and the Weagles, Crows and Co were but a twinkle in Ross Oakley's eye. At the same time, Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket, complete with a superbly sardonic Richie Benaud, inspired men across the nation to dress (and drink) like Dennis Lillee. After all, nothing says 'I'm macho as hell' like gold slave chains, a fairly hefty mo', and seventeen million beers.

I went to a tiny school in the country, where lunchtimes were spent on the -- well, let's call it an oval, because we thought of it as that -- playing footy and cricket. I can say with pride that several of my male classmates remember me with fear and quite possibly loathing, for my awesome tackling and demon-fast bowling. They ripped me down on the netball court, so fair's fair, guys.

Then I hit my private all-girls' school with a fairly large thud, for both the nuns and me, and realised not all sports are created equal. More to the point, neither are the way they are funded, perceived, or portrayed in the media.

This was over 30 years ago. I still love sport. Love. It. I love watching it, commenting on it, and I did, for a very long time, love playing it at a competitive level.

I love netball. I love F1. I love cricket. I love rugby union; that is well-known amongst my tribe, who tend to leave the room/state/universe when I am watching my beloved Waratahs play.

And I love AFL. I am a Collingwood supporter, which apparently surprises many people who meet me, as I have all my own teeth, don't own any Pies merchandise, can on occasion speak without swearing, tweet without blaming the umpire for the game's outcome during live matches, and don't like Eddie Maguire one little bit.

What I don't love about sport is the continuing bias against women. How can the enormous salary gap between men and women -- in the same sports particularly -- the lack of recognition in mainstream commercial media of our national women's teams' achievements, and the prevalence of ridiculously patronising, pat on the bum, naff, unprofessional commentary, still be acceptable in an age of disruption, innovation and awareness?

A syndicated column by Graham Cornes, former AFL player and Adelaide coach, a week or so ago, has attracted a firestorm of responses, some of which were unprintable, including my husband's prior to my editing it. And so it should've. It was heinous. But what worried me most about it was this; not that he wrote it -- because, just like this column, he is entitled to his opinion. It's more the fact that it was seen as an acceptable piece of journalism for a mainstream publication. Said publication's audience, of course, includes impressionable teenage boys, who respect the word of people like Graham Cornes due to his reputation as a player and coach.

How can we possibly change the way women's sport -- and women in sport -- is seen in Australia, if this is the substantive media commentary presented? If women playing AFL are seen as 'girls playing footy' in inverted commas, rather than girls playing footy, and the focus is put on their outfits (!!), their 'boobs' getting in the way, and other inanities, then there is no hope of people taking it or them seriously.

Just think about these stats.

Netball is the second biggest team sport by participation (by either sex) in Australia, just behind soccer. The Diamonds are current world champions. The Southern Stars -- the women's cricket team -- have smashed the Ashes to smithereens, whilst Clarke and co are sobbing into their well-moisturised and well-sponsored hands. Anna Meares has cycled her way into history; Stephanie Gilmore is six times world surfing champion.

As for Aussie Rules? There are 400,000 girls and women playing competitive AFL in this country (including Auskick). That number has increased from 50,000 just 10 years ago.

Then think about this stat.

The Matildas, Australia's female soccer team, spearheading the largest participation sport in the country, would get paid less collectively for making it to the World Cup final than the Socceroos received for a standard group match.

That's not a sporting chance, is it?

That's what I would call a complete...


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