Monday, 11 September 2023
Private Members' Business
Women in Sport
This is an important motion from the member for Werriwa, for two reasons. Firstly it is right to celebrate success. The across-the-board success of women's sporting teams at the national and international level is something new in the history of our country, and we should not let that pass without celebrating it, marking it and honouring the women, the players, the coaches, the support staff and of course the families in support who have made it happen. Perhaps there was some government policy that assisted along the way too.
Secondly, we need to sustain this. We need to commit to maintaining and continuing to develop women's participation in sport, not just internationally but right the way down to Little Athletics. We can't allow something so good to wane. Governments will have a role in this.
Actually, women's sport has always been a prominent part of our national life. If we cast our minds back, however, we find that many of the famous names in women's sport in this country competed in individual events, not team events: Evonne Goolagong Cawley, Cathy Freeman, Betty Cuthbert and Ash Barty. In swimming, of course, many of those individually brilliant athletes combined to bring us medley gold as well, but what has really changed in recent years is that there is a traceable improvement in the fortunes of women's team sport across many codes. We are now competitive internationally in cricket, netball and basketball to name a few, and at home there is growth and interest across these and AFLW and volleyball and more.
In the world's most popular team sport—association football, international football, soccer, or, as most everyone else in the world knows it, football—the Matildas have had such a surge in performance, success and popularity that the great Socceroos are slightly in the shade. Our most internationally famous and feted athlete of any gender is Sam Kerr—from WA, by the way.
I spoke a while back about the magnificent women making Australia proud in motorsport—for example, motorcycle racing champion, Jessica Gardiner, who has competed internationally and won in her categories in enduro for some 13 years straight. The motorsports have taken great strides to assist interested girls and women to get involved from the ground up. Sometimes individual brilliance in sport can rise up, even if the support structures and the culture of support is lacking. For teams success, however, every member of the team needs to be supported. Sport is great of course, as entertainment. In our government, the ministry of sport sits quite properly under the head of health. The best thing about the wave of success at the international and national level for our women's sporting teams is that it means that the leagues are healthy all the way down to the under-7s and that the drop-off of engagement in sports by young women in their early teens is less of an issue than it used to be. This will mean a few extra torn ACLs, I know, but the balance in favour of a long, healthy and fully lived life is significant.
A big part of that is having role models to look up to. As proud as we are of the Matildas and others for their performances and record setting, each of those players should be immensely proud of the example that they have given, and continue to give, to the next generation—in the stands on tiptoes for 90 minutes, wearing their size 5 replica shirts and watching with wide-open eyes and oft-bated breath. How can we as legislators support these heroes? A couple of ideas to come to mind. Pay parity really should go without saying, but it doesn't. Government funding should always be predicated on fairness. Down the other end, where the kiddies are signing up in droves and extra teams are being put on to meet demand, let's make sure that there are sufficient facilities so that the sisters are not the poor cousins of their brothers, as they've tended to be for so long. With these changes come changes in culture. It's a virtuous circle The Spanish football team won the World Cup here, and their battle against misogyny has been front and centre in the press ever since. This is necessary. Issues need to be issues until they are no longer issues. One day the Australian women will win the World Cup in Spain and come home to nothing but celebration.
In closing, I want to acknowledge some of the older women who were the pioneers in each of the codes and in their sports who have struggled to achieve their dreams in conditions that were wholly unsupportive. Their sacrifices and battles bear fruit now not for them but for the millions of girls and women who are looking forward to their next match next week.