I’m in two minds about the announcement yesterday from federal sports minister, Sussan Ley and Australian Sports Commission (ASC) chief, John Wylie.
I can’t quite decide if it’s actually a step forward for women in sport or just a neat way for a Minister to score points for a Government not best known for a gender equity focus.
Maybe a little of both?
Firstly, hurrah! It’s great that the Minister for Sport has pulled out gender equity as a prerequisite to receive government funding. It’s long overdue if you ask me. As a taxpayer, I’m more than a little annoyed that I continue to subsidise sports that routinely disrespect women. Finished playing on our shiny pitch? Good, now get back and get changed in the kitchen! Yeah, that happened.
Why are we talking about travel of all things when there are way more fundamental issues to be addressed in how our sports are funded, promoted and administered?
To be fair, John Wylie did say, “This is part of an overall program that we’re driving to try and get a better deal for our elite female athletes across a range of fronts at the moment, but it’s one step at a time.”
While he’s alluding to more to come, nothing concrete has been proposed so here’s a few real gender equity questions I’d liked addressed. I’m focusing on football here because that’s that my biggest love/hate relationship (oh, I wish I could quit you!) but the principles apply across the board.
Access to facilities
When governments at all levels subsidise or allocate local fields and facilities, are those facilities equally available to girls and boys? Or is our green space dominated by mostly male junior sports such as AFL and rugby league? Does netball and, increasingly, football, get a share that promotes this gender equity principle?
Spoiler alert: NO.
Why is there a chasm of difference in boys’ and girls’ youth national team programs, in major sports like football? Why does the government subsidise the u16 Joeys, and not the u16 Mini Matildas? Why does the FFA offer full-time scholarships for u16 boys, and a patchy stop-start program for the u16 girls? Funding which stops completely once the girls are knocked out of the World Cup for their age group. Wouldn’t cash be better spent at the development stage then on extra legroom?
Why are major clubs permitted to ignore or under-fund their women's teams, while paying ever more to the male players? Why is the W-League season only 12 games long; teams don’t even play all teams twice! The A-League is three full rounds, 27 games. That’s quite the gender gap, wouldn’t you say?
Is this what athletes want?
And here's the thing, the athletes themselves are likely to want these systemic issues addressed as a bigger priority than travel class. The Opals, in 2012, were offered business class seats or equivalent cash. They took the cash. Wouldn’t you? Not many of us, when paying for our own seat, choose to fork out for pointy end privileges.
Is there good news?
I can totally see it’s an overwhelmingly positive thing to have the sports minister and the chair of the ASC working together on an issue of gender equity. If this is just the beginning, then this partnership, this leadership has the power to drive real cultural change within our sporting federations.
And that IS a good thing.