2016 was an incredible year for women in sport

Mary Konstantopoulos Columnist

By , Mary Konstantopoulos is a Roar Expert

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    2016. For me, it’s a year I’ll remember for the fairy tales.

    Paul Gallen told the Shire, “turn your porch lights off because we are coming home with the trophy.” Jamie Vardy threw a giant party to celebrate Leicester City winning the EPL.

    Then there were scenes at the MCG when the Western Bulldogs broke their Premiership drought and the curse of the goat was broken.

    These moments were all special, but what was more special for me was watching the women’s sport landscape in this country begin to change.

    Don’t get me wrong, I recognise that we have plenty of work to do in spaces like print coverage, broadcast and pay, but with the year coming to an end, it’s time to celebrate some special women’s sport moments from 2016.

    “You and 19 of your best friends will change rugby in this country”.
    Shannon Parry was right in the letter she wrote to her 12-year-old self.

    2016 was the year that the Aussie Pearls changed women’s rugby in Australia forever with their 24-17 win over arch-rivals the New Zealand Black Ferns to win the first ever rugby sevens gold medal at Rio.

    Winning the gold medal was not the only thing this team achieved this year. They were the first Australian team to be crowned World Champions in the World Series, Charlotte Caslick was named women’s Sevens World Player of the Year and largely thanks to their efforts, rugby sevens is one of the fastest growing sports in the country.

    Chloe Esposito
    2016 was the year that Australia learnt what modern pentathalon was when Chloe
    Esposito became the first Australian to claim gold in the event. Everyone loves an underdog and Chloe came from seventh place in the final leg to win gold and send Kitty Chiller into hysterics.

    Victory in the broadcast wars?
    It was a mixed year for women in media. There was outrage when Rebecca Maddern was appointed to co-host the AFL Footy Show and Mel McLaughlin was told ‘don’t blush baby’ by Chris Gayle while on the job. While these were real low-lights, there were some big wins including Yvonne Sampson being the first woman to host a major sporting event in this country (State of Origin) and the announcement that Kelli Underwood will lead the commentary team in the inaugural season of the women’s AFL.

    Australia finishes fifth at the Paralympic Games
    With 81 medals in total (22 gold, 20 silver and 29 bronze), Australia ended the Paralympic Games fifth on the medal tally. There were some outstanding performances at these games by women like Madi Elliot, but I wanted to also highlight the leadership of Kate McLoughlin.

    Kate was the first female chef de Mission at a Paralympic Games and her leadership not only contributed to Australia’s overall success but saw her recognised with the AIS Award for Leadership.

    Moana Hope, Daisy Pearce, Nicola Barr
    With the announcement of the eight teams that will take part in the inaugural women’s AFL competition now not only can I cheer on the GWS Giants men’s team, but I’ll also have a women’s team to support as well.

    With a peak audience of 1.05 million viewers for the exhibition match between the Western Bulldogs and the Melbourne Demons earlier this year, it’s fair to say that the face of AFL in this country is no longer restricted to just men – it now includes talented women like Steph Chiocchi, Daisy Pearce, Nicola Barr and Jess Cameron.

    Demons player Chelsea Randall tackled at the MCG

    When it comes to women’s participation in sport, I truly credit cricket and its approach to the inaugural WBBL for pushing other sports to get their acts together.

    But cricket didn’t just stop with the inaugural season of the WBBL. Cricket Australia announced that very game in WBBL02 would be either televised or live streamed, significant pay increases were announced for women at all levels of the game and the Southern Stars became the inaugural winners of the Women’s ICC World Cup.

    State of Origin dominance ends
    As a NSW fan, I am used to hanging my head in shame when Queenslanders mention State of Origin. This was the year that changed when the Blues defeated the Maroons for the first time in 17 years by 8-4.

    This wasn’t the only big moment for women in league this year. Kezie Apps won the NRL Dally M Female Player of the Year, the Jillaroos were televised on Channel Nine and Ruan Sims became the first woman to sign an NRL contract with the Cronulla Sharks.

    The Matildas
    This was the first time in 12 years that the Matildas featured in an Olympic Games. I remember holding my grandfather’s hand during the penalty shoot-out between the Matildas and Brazil in the quarter-finals.

    I remember watching Allanah Kenedy’s point-kick miss. I remember dropping to my knees and crying with the rest of Australia during one of the most heartbreaking moments of the Olympic Games. But, I also remember being so proud. This was a team that excelled in 2016 and their sixth-in-the-world ranking to finish the year reflects this.

    Sponsorship of women’s sport
    This was a year when big brands really began to throw their support behind women’s sport following leaders like Rebel Sport (cricket) Harvey Norman (rugby league) and Buildcorp (rugby). This year NAB came to the party (AFL) and so did Samsung (netball). When Samsung and netball joined forces, they created one of the most powerful advertising campaigns this country has ever seen.

    World boss
    I’m cheating because Serena Williams is not Australian, but when asked if she thought of herself as one of the greatest female athletes, Serena responded with “I prefer the words ‘one of the greatest athletes of all time.'” Absolute boss.

    That’s me signing off for 2016. See you in 2017 Roarers – if this year was anything to go by, the best is yet to come.

    Mary Konstantopoulos
    Mary Konstantopoulos

    Mary Konstantopoulos is a lawyer, sports advocate and proud owner and founder of the Ladies Who empire, including Ladies who League, Ladies who Legspin, Ladies who Lineout and Ladies who Leap. You can find her podcast on iTunes and find her on Twitter @mary__kaye and @ladieswholeague.