OPINION: A sporting chance? I don’t think so
Life as I know it, with Lesley Apps
THERE was an interesting article in one of the weekend magazines recently about the Matildas, the women's football team that is currently ranked ninth in the world thanks to their outstanding performance in the FIFA Women's World Cup held in Canada recently where they made the quarter-finals. The high-profile men's team, the Socceroos, sits at 58th.
Given the quality fields on which both the male and female competitions operate, it's pretty good effort by the girls who beat legendary countries like Brazil to get to their position in the top 10 countries in the world. If the men beat Brazil in a World Cup it would be declared a national holiday.
The girls got little bit of media glory and then it was overshadowed by their desire to be treated and paid like professional sportspeople. How dare they? Their base salary sat below the minimum wage at $21,000pa, a level where they needed to decide whether they want to play for the love of the game and be a pauper or throw in the towel and get a real job. For interest's sake, they were earning one-fifteenth of their male counterparts' wage.
That's the wall they had to surmount despite being one of the world's best teams. After striking (no pun intended), they had their pay raised to the minimum wage of $34,000. This battle for recognition and basic salary implies that no-one is interested in women's sport and ensures men's teams continue to dominate the entertainment scene.
The thing that is most insulting is that they aren't even given a chance to see what would happen. No. We are going to neither make it easy for you nor test the waters as far as how popular women's sport could become through managerial decisions and corporate support and interest.
Netball has proven that it can work, but it seems to be okay to give that sport special dispensation because it's a girls' game in the wide world of sports. Football on the other hand...
The lone star in this parochial system is tennis but again it didn't happen overnight, as Billie Jean King would attest. And thank god for Serena Williams because when you are dealing with women's sport to have to create history to sell out tickets in record time.
With the fellas it's just matter of turning up with your testosterone.
And that is no doubt the appeal. Brute strength and skill as opposed to impressive strength and speed given the physiological difference, but just as amazing skills which is what you see with teams like the Matildas and the Opals and the Bathurst driving pair who challenged the testosterone-charged hillside and its commentators.
Marketing has a lot to do with what sport means to people. If it's gladiatorial displays you hunger for then men have that all wrapped up, although there are also female teams playing rugby league (some don't even have to wear lingerie) and walloping each other in the boxing ring.
It's just a matter of presenting these competitions without bias or condescension, something we are yet to manage in this country given the attitudes, commentary and media coverage served up every time sporting women break new ground.
Perhaps the most obvious example is Karrie Webb. She was a world champion golfer, one of the greatest in the history of women's golf, the likes of which Australia had never seen before and yet to see since. She was the female equivalent to Tiger Woods at the time but got none of the special treatment that a multiple world champion deserved. In fact the best she could do from memory was get a back page (because it's sports you know).
Despite her international fame she didn't represent what we (media/society) wanted in a female sporting hero. She was a lesbian, and not a sexy, bubbly airhead. That Kasey Chambers song springs to mind too but what really should be in our minds is that she killed the competition on the world golfing circuit during her reign. Much like our hero St Jason Day is doing now but without the privilege of the XY chromosome. How quickly has Webb faded into sporting obscurity?
It's all fine to say you believe in equality between the sexes, but professional sports is just one example where the playing ground is being managed, usually by men, so women never really get an uninhibited platform in which to demonstrate their skills or marketability. It's pretty much like this across the board from movies to medicine. The shift will happen but with the parochial brakes being squeezed in this country it's going to be a long, hard road ahead.
Achieving equality shouldn't be a matter of women solely chipping away at the system to reach their rightful place (like the Matildas), it also requires men to relinquish some of their long-held space and power in order for this to happen. Being made to feel like undeserving thieves is not good enough.
If they were really serious about it, the Matildas would have also been featured in CEO David Gallop's inspirational promo for football in this country. You know, the team that's in the Top 10 in the world.
PS: Since writing this column Michelle Payne won the Melbourne Cup, the first female jockey in cup's 154-year-old history to do so, on a horse that was an absolute longshot at 101:1. Talk about beating the odds. Congratulations Michelle.