I am a sports fan. I can watch anything and everything if there is a racket, ball, pole, starter’s gun or curling stone involved. In fact, I find curling strangely trance-inducing every four years when the winter games comes along. It’s not unusual for women to be fighting for control of the remote in order to get first dibs on which sports channel is watched. I have dozens of female friends and acquaintances that are as fanatical about sport as I am. In fact AdNews has reported that 47% of the 13 million sports fans in Australia are female.
I have to wonder then, if women make up almost half of the sports viewing public, why they make up so little of the national coverage and following. Our network sporting coverage is full to the brim of male football codes, (which I admit I love to watch also), with very little representation of women in their midst. Particularly in Australia, where our female sports stars are so damned impressive. Let’s take a look at our current record – in almost every case our female sports stars are faring comparatively better than their male counterparts.
Let’s start with netball – and let me just say up front I admit a bias here. This is my favourite sport and the game, I believe, they play in heaven. I have played it, umpired it, coached it, administrated for it and watched it – a lot. I’ve played at high levels, played in multiple teams and even played a month after having a baby.
Biases aside, netball played at its best is faster and more physical than most sports and requires just as much aerobic and anaerobic fitness as the most popular of the men’s sports. These women are amongst the most dedicated and physically impressive athletes on the planet and they often do it for love of the sport, holding down jobs to sustain their livelihood. Plus, here in Australia we are damned good at netball. 13 world championships have been held since 1963 and the Australian Netball Diamonds have won 10. That’s right. We were the best in the world ten out of thirteen times. The Trans-tasman championship, which has players from all over the world competing in it, has been utterly dominated by Australian teams, who have only given up the title once since its inception in 2007. More girls and women play netball in Australia than any other sport. It is an institution. Yet it barely rates a mention on the nightly sports report and very few column inches are dedicated to it. While the games are often sell outs, the TV audiences have been slow to follow. Why aren’t people watching in their droves?
Of course, it would be difficult to discuss women in sport in Australia without mentioning the Opals. Since 1994 Australia has been in the top five finishers for the Basketball World Championships, winning one gold and two bronze medals. Far more successful than their male counterparts, they have medalled at every Olympic Games since Atlanta in 1998, and produced some of the highest paid and most feared female basketballers in the world. Lauren Jackson, Trish Fallon and Michelle Timms are amongst some of the better recognised women athletes in Australia and yet the WNBL struggles to make ends meet.
Then there are the hockeyroos, who have never placed lower than 6th in World Cup history, securing 2 golds, 2 silvers and a bronze in nine outings, as well as scoring 3 gold medals at the Olympics. Our ladies cricket team have had significantly more success than our men of late. They have won 6 of the ten World Cups they have played in, collecting the silver medal on two other occasions. Likewise, our female athletes, swimmers and tennis players have all secured significantly more success than the men in recent years but still fall short on ratings.
So why, in a nation that adores its sportsmen, aren’t we paying attention to the women who are equally as dedicated, equally as fit, equally as talented and in many cases, much more likely to win?
I don’t have an answer, but I do know this. When women support other women, great things can happen. So sports fans I urge you – fight for that remote! Watch the men compete at their best, but don’t ignore the women. They’ve earned our respect and adulation in the same way as male sportsmen have and they have often had less funds and more demands place on them to do it.