Chris Stafford reflects on a year which has seen sportswomen gaining ground in some respects with increasing professionalism and recognition but while progress may be slow in the big picture, there is cause for hope
It has been an extraordinary year. Whether you take time for deeper reflection as we emerge ourselves in the holiday season or only take a cursory glance over your shoulder. The events of 2016 from global affairs to domestic politics and across the world of sport have witnessed turmoil and tragedy that have reminded me of Queen Elizabeth’s reference to annus horribilis. Personally, my world turned upside down but by comparison to some it’s relatively minor—except that everything has changed.
The rise of professionalism is a reality, the tide is turning
And everything is changing in the world of global sports and to some damaging extremes, for example, take state sponsored doping and the festering wounds of corruption. But let’s not dwell on the negative, the cheats and the frauds of 2016. Instead, we have reason to celebrate some progress in women’s sports as WiSP Sports approaches its first anniversary in February. As a media company we are still very much in our infancy and are slowly carving a niche in global women’s sports coverage—as we continue to whittle away in an effort to make a difference, we have been witness to some changing times in women’s sports.
The rise of professionalism is a reality, the tide is turning and slowly but surely more female athletes have been offered professional contracts. For those, their world is changing for the better and while the lucky ones enjoy a new future, it’s this changing culture that we must embrace.
Australia and England Cricket has been at the forefront this year in extending contracts to more players that will change their status bringing them out of the amateur ranks of odd-jobbing. The outcome for the women’s game will be not only to strengthen its domestic base and international squad but also to ensure continuity and incentive to other players who can finally believe in the prospect of making a living in their sport; giving them hope. The underlining issue of underpayment though has not been addressed in a stroke so let’s not pretend the fight for equality is over. This will continue to rankle and echo through the locker rooms. Women’s sport should never accept the crumbs. And we’re not.
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The corporate suits are starting to sit up and pay attention to this new wave, and yes, aside from the mainstream sports it is a new wave of professionalism. Netball too has been a winner this year, namely in England and New Zealand, and Australian Rules Football has also established a minimum wage with Australian Basketball set to follow in their footsteps. Australian Netball is also including child care and health insurance too. How about that?! In the U.S., the WNBA and U.S. Soccer have established, inferior though they are, pay structures for women. For soccer, their’s is an ongoing issue, which is not winning in the courts as the defense argues the imbalance of revenue between men and women.
We know it takes more women’s collective voices in the boardroom
Reading our pages of Women’s Sports History we are reminded of the women who began this gallant and worthy fight long before Billie Jean King donned the mantle of a modern era suffragette. It was the delightful Miss Emily Valentine who picked up a rugby ball and ran with it against the boys, and Clara Baer and Martina Bergman-Österberg who opened the doors for netball to become the global sport for women that it is today, whom we should applaud for they too were pioneers. Their contribution was, perhaps, more noteworthy considering the culture for women in the 19th century. And there are many more modern day suffragettes who have picked up the baton and are striving for recognition for their sport—giving us all hope.
Professionalism, participation, sponsorship and media coverage are only part of the big picture. Listeners of our Locker Room Talk podcast will have heard the quandary of why people don’t watch women’s sports. There is no easy solution to all the challenges women face in sport both on and off the pitch but thanks to the growing efforts around the world in more sports, the tide is changing.
Alas, it is but a tiny trickle added to the pond and there is still much to be done. But if history is an indicator of the future we can be assured there will always be women campaigning to address the balance. We know it takes more women’s collective voices in the boardroom. It’s always tough for a sole voice to carry the weight and volume that’s needed for significant change.
Another example of Australia leading the way for equality and professionalism is the Australian Sports Commission who recently appointing a woman as CEO—Kate Palmer. There are other examples, although all too few, of women in sports governance. Sara Gross wrote of Marisol Casado leading the way for women’s sport in triathlon as the only female president of a summer Olympic sports federation. Other residents in the halls of sports governance who have influenced rule changes and cultural shifts include Moira Lassen who has been the voice for women in weightlifting as the first woman to be elected to its governing body, and is also Chair of its Women’s Commission. Her campaign for an added weight category in the sport as part of fight for gender parity was successful. USA Pistol has just named Libby Callahan as the first woman to be its National Coach, which is noteworthy in another male dominated sport. And yes, we often argue that so many sports are male dominated in many ways from participation to governance making it hard to break that glass ceiling, but it is happening. Maybe not fast enough but we have reason to hope and as the First Lady Michelle Obama pointed out so succinctly, …”What else do you have if you don’t have hope?”