Kicking Goals towards Gender Equality

They’re calling it ‘an untapped international market full of both social and economic potential.’ Internationally, women’s sport is slowly but surely kicking points towards the overall goal of gender equality. We have had small breakthroughs all over the world, and the most recent one happened right here in Australia.

The first ever AFL Women’s match was played in Victoria only a week ago. At the first game of the season – Carlton v Collingwood – the stadium was packed. 24,500 new fans of this new branch of Aussie Rules filled the large stadium to capacity. Indeed, nearly 2000 eager fans had to be turned away at the gates. AFL CEO Gillion McLachlan was lost for words as he stood out the front of Ikon Park stadium, saying ‘I’m sorry’ to fans as he turned them away. What an overwhelming, positive response to AFLW. A win for gender equality was already on the scoreboard before the match had started, and the game itself was impressive. The women had clearly maximised their short pre-season, displaying skill, determination and potential on the field. Collingwood supporter Jaron Lamaro described the atmosphere of the match as positive and uplifting, and praised the women on the field by saying ‘their skills are great…[and] they’re hitting each other has hard as the men.’ He wasn’t the only one who found enjoyment in watching the new women’s league. Over 1.05 million people tuned in across the weekend to watch the new AFLW Round 1 matches – smashing the ratings Channel 7 had hoped to receive.

This first round of the AFLW league is merely a snapshot of an emerging international trend of positive attitudes towards women’s sport. The popular US television network NBC reported that their most watched sporting match in history was the USA Women’s Gold Medal soccer match at the 2012 London Olympics. A record-breaking 4,350,000 individuals tuned in to watch the game. Moreover, for the last decade, the prize money offered in the Wimbledon Grand Slam tennis match has consistently been the same for both the men’s and women’s games. This in itself is a reflection of the popularity and value society deems women’s sport in the 21st century to hold.

While we should be excited about this success and what it forecasts for the reception of women in sport for the future, it is important to recognise that we are only part way through the race. Sports journalists covering the Olympics are (according to a study conducted by The Rep Project) twice as likely, during interviews with athletes, to ask females about their physical appearance when compared to men competing in the same sports. In 2012, for instance, Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas was internationally criticised for the way that she had done her hair. This is disgusting behaviour, and the success of these athletes in the face of these comments is all the more admirable.

The game’s not over yet. We’re on the scoreboard with a couple of goals in our back pocket. To win, we need to learn to play as a team. If teams are to function effectively, every player needs to be treated equally and with respect. We want to win. We need to win. Life’s a game. The prize is equality and we’re all on the same team.

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