It’s been a week of firsts this week in women’s sport.
This morning it was announced by the Rugby League World Cup 2017 organising committee that for the first time in the history of the Women’s Rugby League World, Cup Channel Seven will broadcast all 12 matches of the tournament on free-to-air television and stream all 12 games live too.
That means you will have the opportunity to watch women play rugby league live wherever you are in Australia.
For our friends across the Tasman, Sky Sport has also secured the rights to the broadcast.
This Rugby League World Cup is groundbreaking for so many reasons. It is the first time that the women’s world cup will be held as a stand-alone event, and it will also be the first time that both the men’s and women’s finals will be played on the same day in a doubleheader at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium.
If you are in Sydney and love your rugby league, though you may be disappointed that none of the men’s matches will be played in Sydney, the women’s world cup is an excellent opportunity for you to support women’s rugby league. All of the women’s matches except for the final will be held at Southern Cross Group Stadium in Cronulla as triple-headers on 16, 19 and 22 November with the semi-final to be played as a double-header on 26 November.
The six teams that will be contesting the women’s world cup later this year are Australia, Canada, the Cook Islands, England, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, with Australia being the reigning champions.
One of my favourite sayings is ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’, and that’s why in the women’s sport space broadcast is absolutely crucial.
Growing up as a rugby league fan in the late 1990s, it never once crossed my mind to ask my dad where the women playing rugby league were, why I wasn’t able to play rugby league at school or why the sport that I grew up loving featured so many men in positions of authority and influence.
Without visible female role models I didn’t think outside the box. I think I made the assumption growing up that rugby league was a game for the boys, and instead of asking more questions I was happy watching my team take the field each week without thinking about the bigger picture – which of course involved women.
The next generation of young women will not have this problem. With women like Ruan Sims, Allana Ferguson, Maddie Studdon and Kezie Apps now being given the opportunity to play and be featured on television, no little girl will ever need to ask where the women playing rugby league are.
I want to introduce all of you to Eleni Glouftis, who this weekend will become the AFL’s first ever female field umpire in the game between the Essendon Bombers and West Coast Eagles.
While everyone is talking about this monumental moment for Eleni, breaking new ground is something this young woman from South Australia is very used to.
In 2013 Eleni was the first female umpire for a SANFL match. She continued to officiate in this space, and by 2014 she had 15 umpiring appearances and was then the recipient of a three-year scholarship to train with the VFL and AFL
It was in 2016 as an ‘AFL pathway’ umpire that Eleni was named as the first female field umpire to be in charge of an AFL match at any level when she umpired a Carlton and Essendon pre-season game.
Over time her skill level and confidence have steadily increased.
In the opening weeks of the 2017 competition Eleni has been an emergency field umpire, but she will now take the field and make history on the weekend.
This has been an exceptional year for diversity in AFL. It began with the inaugural season of the AFLW, which introduced Australia to our next generation of AFL stars, including Sarah Perkins, Moana Hope, Jess dal Pos and Erin Phillips.
New ground was broken in relation to female leadership in the AFL in May when it was announced that Hawthorn had appointed the AFL’s first ever female chief executive, former Olympic cyclist Tracey Gaudry.
And now we have our first female field umpire.
With increasing numbers of women involved in executive roles across the AFL, the AFLW set for expansion in 2019 and now another barrier being broken down when it comes to women in umpiring, soon the media will no longer need to draw attention to the fact that these women are female – their gender will be a side note to the tremendous talent, professionalism and drive that they bring to their chosen space.
Finally, while Australian women competing in the UFC is not a first, I also want to introduce you all to Nadia Kassem, who is Australia’s newest UFC fighter.
Nadia is 21 years old and will make her debut in the Octagon at UFC Auckland on 11 June.
Nadia is from Wentworthville and has been fighting for two years. She is undefeated in the four professional fights she has competed in and her competition in June will be American strawweight JJ Aldrich.
Despite being a sport that has never particularly captured my attention, UFC has come a long way since 2011 when UFC president Dana White declared that there would ‘never’ be female fighters.
Undoubtedly Nadia is following in the footsteps of other talented female fighters like Ronda Rousey. Perhaps it’s time I started tuning in to watch these fierce, aggressive and talented women.