The status of women’s sport in Australia
A recent survey revealed that Australia’s sporting public was more emotionally engaged (and therefore more impressed) by our women’s sporting teams than our men’s.
It makes plenty of sense. The Southern Stars recent sweep of the Women’s T20 World Cup in the Caribbean made it an incredible four titles from six events. The eight wicket defeat of England in the final suggests there might be some more world domination ahead for this talented ensemble.
The Australian men’s cricket team on the other hand is tasked this summer with winning on the field against talented and ambitious opposition, and with the reputation of the team (due to the ongoing odour of the sandpaper-gate scandal) at a low ebb there’s a public relations war to be won as well. It all needs to be done with a smile on the face and in the best possible spirit. It needs to look like fun. It’ll be quite a challenge for the men in the baggy green to combine elite performance with the very high standards of behaviour and decorum the public now demands from this team. Tim Paine along with his captaincy, wicketkeeping and run scoring roles is, like few other Australian captains before, now responsible for maintaining a wider range of standards.
The success of women’s cricket
For our women’s cricketers it all looks like a lot more fun and there’s more to come. After celebrating the World Cup win in Antigua (and taking advantage of a spare day allocated for rain) the best cricketers in the country are back in action this weekend for the opening weekend of the WBBL, the fourth version thereof. With the start of the men’s test series against India still a week away there’s plenty of room to move from one successful venture straight into another.
Along with the established stars of the domestic game such as Alyssa Healy, Ellyse Perry and Meg Lanning a mix of international players including five Kiwis and six South Africans will join the party. With a burgeoning public profile (though you could argue the World Cup win deserved wider reporting than it got), ever increasing participation and opportunity as well as access to the very best training and playing facilities it seems there’s only one way for the women’s game to go and that is up.
A rich history of women’s sporting achievement
Cricket is by no means the only sport in which the women are winning the affection and trust of the sporting public. In the Benchmark survey of fan engagement that used factors such as pride, trust and enjoyment as criteria it was the national women’s rugby sevens team, The Pearls – gold medallists at the 2016 Rio Olympics – that came out on top. Rugby is another case in which the men’s team and its indifferent record (four wins and nine losses this year for the Wallabies) has, in terms of public standing, fallen way behind their female counterparts. The Pearls’ gold medal winning game against New Zealand in Rio seemed to capture a lot of what had been lost in terms of adventure, spirit and the sheer joy of playing from the men’s game.
As a general statement these are pretty good times to be a talented female sportsperson in this country. We have a long tradition of exceptional role models in individual sports: take as a sample Betty Cuthbert, Dawn Fraser, Shane Gould and Cathy Freeman at the Olympic Games, Margaret Court and Evonne Goolagong/Cawley on the great centre courts of the world. It’s now in team games previously associated with male sporting prowess (the rugby codes, soccer, Australian Rules and to a lesser degree cricket) that the women are catching up. Great opportunities abound and we are leading the world. It looks and feels like fun again. It’s now the men that have the catching up to do.
**Photo courtesy of https://www.dawn.com
Peter Newlinds is the author of Around The Grounds