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Women in League Round is absolutely worth celebrating

Ruan Sims playing with the Jillaroos. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)
Expert
1st August, 2016
24

Today, the NRL officially launches Women in League Round. This week is an opportunity for us as a game to celebrate the participation, commitment and role that women play at all levels of the rugby league family.

Women in League Round is an opportunity to celebrate, and worth getting excited about, but it can be incredibly divisive.

I’ve heard all the reasons as to why we shouldn’t celebrate Women in League Round. Today, I thought I would share some of those reasons with you and explain why I don’t think they are relevant.

Women in League is about mums
Whenever I hear someone say this, I immediately channel Phil Gould and in his voice say, “No, no, no, no, no.”

I will admit that when the round first launched ten years ago, it did very much feel a chance to celebrate women at a grassroots level – the mum who washes the team socks after a game, the mum who worked in the canteen, and the mum who would wake up early on a Saturday morning to take her son to his game.

These women are crucial to our game and worth celebrating, but Women in League Round has evolved into so much more than this and has become even more inclusive.

Increasingly, the round has become a celebration of women at all levels of the game, and now we have so many more to celebrate.

Think of examples like Marina Go, chairperson at the Wests Tigers, Cathy Harris, who sits on the Australian Rugby League Commission, Raelene Castle as CEO of the Canterbury Bulldogs, Yvonne Sampson at Channel Nine, Ruan Sims who is captain of our Jillaroos, Anita Hagarty who sits on the board of Touch Football Australia, and Kasey Badger, NRL referee.

Women are involved in any aspect of the game that they choose. This is worth celebrating.

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Rugby league has demonstrated that its players have problems with attitudes towards women
This one makes me angry, because it labels rugby league as the code with the problem. The reality is – as we have seen on countless occasions this year – issues of sexism and gender are prevalent in all our major sporting codes.

Our sports reflect the society in which we live, and unfortunately as long as issues of sexism and gender inequality exist, they will continue to be reflected in our sports.

Does this mean it’s okay? Certainly not. But instead of labelling rugby league, let’s focus on what rugby league is doing with its very big voice in this space.

A good example is the tremendous amount of work the NRL does in the community, in particular through the Voice Against Violence program, led by NRL ambassadors like Alan Tongue, or the training delivered to our players in conjunction with the Full Stop Foundation about respectful relationships.

Refusing to celebrate the role of women in our game because of the actions of the few absolutely undermines the behaviour, energy and talent associated with the many.

It’s condescending
This reason confuses me.

Any opportunity our game gives us to celebrate a group who contribute so much to the game should be embraced.

There are always arguments put forward that by having a round to celebrate women, we remind them that they are not equals in our game.

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The reality is, that while women are treated as equals in the game and are welcome, we still have a long way to go before female representation in the game is closer to 50 per cent.

Instead of shying away from this fact, let’s celebrate how far we have come and be even more driven to achieve gender parity in the game in the future.

Moves are already underway, with my favourite example being the strides made in the women’s game. With the announcement that the Cronulla Sharks will have a women’s nines side next year (stacked with Jillaroos like Ruan Sims, Maddie Studdon and Allana Ferguson) and the murmurs continuing to grow about an NRL women’s competition in the future, this space is certainly one to watch.

It won’t get more women to like the NRL
Well, with an attitude like that, of course not.

People are always surprised when I name all the talented women I know who are involved in the game, and the levels at which they are involved.

By having a round where we celebrate women and the positions they hold in the game, we make them visible – and this is important.

When I hear little girls saying things like, “When I grow up, I want to be Ruan Sims”, I know that we are making headway.

This round tells little girls that being involved in rugby league is not a dream anymore, it can be their reality.

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Whether the round is tokenistic, patronising or simply ‘too pink’, women in our game are worth celebrating.

My hope is that in ten years, women are so common within the game that there won’t need to be a Women in League Round.

But until then, let’s celebrate the women involved in our game, because without them there wouldn’t be rugby league.

This is @mary__kaye from @ladieswholeague