Why We’re Fist-Pumping About the Rise of Women’s Sport This International Women’s Day

Women’s sport has seen an unprecedented rise in popularity in the past year – even in the past few months, and WH sees that as a major win for all women.

Just a few highlights… The Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL cricket), in only its second season, scored impressive crowds and TV ratings. “At the double-header derby game at the SCG [Sydney Cricket Ground] we had over 17,000 in for the WBBL game, which was phenomenal,” says Dominic Redmond, GM of the Sydney Sixers big bash cricket teams. “The Stars-Renegades game in Melbourne had a crowd of over 24,000. And the league averaged over 240,000 TV viewers per game, which was amazing. If you look at normal TV viewing figures on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, you’d be lucky to get 120,000.”

The launch of the AFL Women’s (AFLW) league has been A. Big. Deal. For the inaugural game in Melbourne, 2000 spectators had to be locked out of the ground because it’d reached capacity. TV viewing figures have been big. And sponsors are begging to be a part of it.

Then of course there’s the Suncorp Super Netball – the super-est national netball comp we’ve ever seen in Australia. Eight teams from around the country are battling it out for the next few months, 9Gem is airing games that are garnering great ratings. And with netball and so much women’s sport headlining at the moment, the daughter of netball legend Liz Ellis remarked to her one night, “Mummy, why don’t boys play sport?” LOL.

“I don’t think the interest in women’s sport is a sudden thing, the momentum has been building for a long time,” says Jerril Rechter, CEO of VicHealth, which is running a campaign, #ChangeOurGame, to increase the profile of women in sport as well as female participation in sport.

Jerril Rechter, CEO of VicHealth

“There does feel like there has been a real momentum shift, and I think it’s come about off the back of a lot of years of work by lots of people at grassroots levels creating opportunities for female athletes,” says Melbourne FC AFLW player Melissa Hickey, who’s a #ChangeOurGame ambassador.

Melissa Hickey, Melbourne FC AFLW player

“The injection of money into various sporting programs and the media giving women’s sport a platform for people to be able to watch it has also really helped. It’s shown us that if you give women’s sport a platform people will embrace it, and we’ve seen this with the numbers of viewers and attendees at women’s sport over the last 12 months.”

Meg Lanning, cricketer for the Melbourne Stars and #ChangeOurGame ambassador, thinks we’re on the right track at the moment. “I’ve seen a lot of changes in my time already, particularly at grassroots level where there weren’t a lot of opportunities for me to play in an all-girls team. Now there’s lots more access to play in all-girls teams. We’ve come a long way.”

But of course, there’s still a long way to go until there’s equality between sports women and men, which is why campaigns like #ChangeOurGame and WH’s own WinS (#WomeninSport) campaign are so important. “Women are significantly under-represented in management, coaching and officiating, particularly at the higher levels,” says Rechter. “We’ve got to reduce all the barriers, either real or perceived, to participation in sport. Without women leaders, decision makers and role models within sport, equal opportunities for women and girls will not be achieved.”

And re that pay gap? “The pay gap in sport is a reflection of society as a whole. There are a number of factors to explain why male sport is better paid and better regarded, including systemic gender bias, media coverage and funding. I look forward to the day when all women receive equal pay.”

So does Maddie Garrick, WNBA basketballer for the Melbourne Boomers, who’s also a #ChangeOurGame ambassador. “Not having to have ‘day jobs’ to subsidise their incomes will provide female athletes with the opportunity to become the most elite, best version of themselves, as they can focus entirely on their ambitions and ‘work’. We train and compete as hard as we possibly can and dedicate our lives to the sport just the same as the men do, so we should be rewarded just the same.”

Maddie Garrick, WNBA basketballer for the Melbourne Boomers and a #ChangeOurGame ambassador

“Women’s sport is no different to men’s sport,” continues Rechter. “It’s about passion, drive, skill and commitment. Men and women’s sports don’t have to be identical to be interesting or entertaining – the women’s competitions are more than the ‘female’ version of the men’s game. The same talent and training is needed to make it in sport, and gender is not a factor. I look forward to the day when it’s not men’s sport or women’s sport, it’s just sport.” We do to.

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