The Roar
The Roar



IWD 2022: Plenty to celebrate in women's sport but still so far to go

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7th March, 2022

Today is International Women’s Day; an important occasion which gives people across the world to celebrate global achievements and take the opportunity to push for change.

When I look back at what has occurred across the sporting landscape over the last decade, I reflect on how much there is to celebrate.

Growing up in the 1990s, rugby league and cricket were my favourite sports. I watched these sports along with my dad and brothers. I associated both sports with boys and men. I never even turned my mind to the idea that women and girls should or could have the chance to play these sports too.

Part of that is because you can’t be what you can’t see and in the early 1990s there was a severe lack of female sporting role models.

That is no longer the case with the next generation of boys and girls growing up in a world where it is the norm that men and women can compete in their favourite sports at an elite level.

In particular, the last five years in particular has shown us what is possible.

On March 8 2020, 86,174 people gathered at the MCG for the ICC T20 Women’s World Cup Final. This was the highest attendance for a women’s sporting fixture ever held in Australia and the highest attendance for a women’s cricket match anywhere in the world.

MCG crowd during the ICC Women's T20 Cricket World Cup Final

Just a lazy 86,000 at the MCG for the Women’s World Cup final. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)


The success of the Australian women that night reflected the result of significant investment by Cricket Australia and the state bodies to professionalise women’s cricket. The dominance of the Australian Women’s Cricket team has not happened overnight; it is the result of intentional behaviour by the governing body.

There is now so much women’s sport on television that I can’t keep up; with professional competitions including the AFLW, NRLW, WBBL, WNBL and Super Netball with the WBBL being ranked as Australia’s fourth most watched sporting competition.

Not only do we get to watch these competitions, but we get to listen to other women talk about them too in the commentary box. Women like Mel Jones, Alex Blackwell, Kelli Underwood, Daisy Pearce, Tarsha Gale and Sam Bremner are all part of the coverage and their insights and laughter are a welcome change from the male-dominated commentary boxes I had become accustomed to.

The establishment of these competitions has also meant that grassroots has been a focus. For rugby league in New South Wales, girls can progress from the Tarsha Gale Cup into the Harvey Norman Women’s Premiership and then aspire to play in the NRLW.

Women are everywhere you look in sport – on our screens, in our boardrooms, refereeing, in the stands and more importantly women like Ash Barty, Madi de Rozario, Ellyse Perry and Sam Kerr are household names.

We have come a long way, but the next five years is critical, particularly with some of the international sport scheduled to be played in Australia like the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup and the FIFA Women’s 2023 World Cup.

Now, questions about whether anyone is actually watching women’s sport have become a rarity.


But the real challenge is the shifting these women towards becoming full-time professional athletes.
There are too many people that are currently comfortable with women competing at an elite level being forced to operate against a background of financial insecurity.

Stories about women competing and then leaving a game to get some sleep before the next shift at McDonalds or Bunnings are common.

Given the expectation of performance on the field, it’s too much to expect elite performance when these women are not being given the chance to play their sport full time or be even close to being compensated appropriately.

Our sports have the money to be able to make this investment. They are making a choice not to at this stage. And it is not going to be ok to continue to make this decision for the next five years.

Our governing bodies need a roadmap of how they will work towards professionalisation and ensuring that our female athletes have the resources around them to succeed, just like their male counterparts.
Additionally, whilst we have seen more and more women involved as players, commentators and administrators the next real growth opportunity is women in coaching.

Despite the abundance of sporting competitions, there are very few women coaching. There are no female coaches in the NRLW, none of the 14 teams in the AFLW do either and only three female coaches have been at the helm since the competition started in 2017.


There are structural reasons behind this. Many staff involved in our women’s competitions are part-time or do it on top of their existing day jobs which are centred around the men’s program.

Just like pathways have been developed for our female players, the same needs to be done for female coaches. But additionally, women need to be given opportunity instead of some men using the women’s program as a pathway to leap into men’s coaching.

Incredible progress has been made in five years. But I look forward to five years time when women’s sport coverage is more prevalent in the news, when professional sporting competitions have made the commitment to invest in women’s sport.

In so much men’s sport we waited 70 years to make the athletes professional. Let’s not make the same mistakes again.

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