When our co-founder Valeria Ignatieva was in primary school, she was told she couldn’t join the football team as it was “too rough for girls”. There weren’t any women playing AFL either, so she moved into other more “girl-friendly” sports instead.
How things have changed!
Valeria recently had a chance to address a roomful of over 1,000 AFL players, coaches and supporters (mostly women!) at the annual Grand Final Comedy Debate run by the Essendon Women’s Network, and reflected on the opportunities young women have in sport today due to the tireless work of women in the community and the sporting codes.
But we still have a long way to go.
Serena Williams was two months pregnant when she played – and won - her last Grand Slam before giving birth, and then won her first post-baby Grand Slam match amidst controversy around her catsuit being banned from the French Open court as a dress code violation. She was wearing the leggings to assist with blood circulation having had issues with blood clots after her birth. Williams also went on parental leave with a world No. 1 ranking and returned ranked No. 451.
She used her position and voice to speak up about the impact of maternity on women’s tennis careers, and the World Tennis Association have recently announced changes to the ranking rules and that women will not be penalised for wearing leggings.
In soccer, Megan Rapinoe and the United States women’s national soccer team made waves during the World Cup, and no one could have ever imagined the Women’s Soccer World Cup Final would be celebrated by the stands erupting into the chant of, “equal pay!”
Olympic runner Alysia Montaño was affected by Nike making performance-related reductions in sponsorship contracts from the start of pregnancy, but was vocal about the discriminatory policy and Nike changed their contract for future pregnant athletes.
The role of women in sports is changing, with increased participation at a player level, among supporters, in administration and in leadership, along with high-profile, vocal advocates for change. At WORK180, we’re seeing an increase in sporting clubs and bodies focusing on diversity in players, employees and supporters, with Essendon Football Club recently becoming WORK180’s latest addition to the endorsed employer community.
EFC General Manager - People & Culture, Lisa Lawry told us,
“We are going to work together on further strengthening EFC’s strategy and commitment to being a truly diverse and inclusive workplace that strives to supports women thriving in sports industry both on and off the field."
Diversity in sport extends beyond gender though. Jason Ball was Australia’s first openly gay AFL player and has consistently challenged the AFL to take a tough line against homophobia. There is now an annual Pride Game, celebrating diversity and inclusion in the AFL community.
Indigenous AFL star Adam Goodes shone a light on the systemic racism experienced as an Aboriginal and the clubs have admitted they did not do enough to stand up for him during his time playing.
EFC’s Women’s Network (who run the Annual Comedy Debate) is focussed on supporting and celebrating women’s contribution to all levels of the AFL community, and award the Football Woman of the Year Awards.
This year the winners were an impressive line-up of women making a positive impact on sport and the wider community.
Shelley Ware lectures on racism in sport and uses her position as presenter on the Marngrook Footy Show on NITV – SBS to shine a light on equality. She is a committee member of Carlton Football Club’s Reconciliation Action Plan and spends her spare time mentoring young Indigenous adults in the community, driving the conversation to support Indigenous Australians. Shelley was named 2019 General Football Woman of the Year.
Fremantle AFLW captain Kara Donnellan was named the 2019 Emerging Leader. She is the General Manager of Community at V Swans, delivering football-based programs and collaborating with communities, business and government to provide solutions for sustainable community development. Again, engaging with women and Indigenous communities to use sport for positive change and action.
The WORK180 Community Award winner was Fitzroy Football Club president Joan Eddy who has dedicated her life to volunteering in community football, currently as Fitzroy Junior Football Club president.
These women join the ranks of athletes using their voice and their sport to push for positive change for women, LGBTQI and Indigenous Australians. As the world opens up for women professionally, in the sporting arena and in all areas where inclusion and diversity are progressing, there are continued opportunities to recognise and advance equality.
Sporting teams and codes, which have huge community support and attention, have a fantastic opportunity to add to the momentum of growing equality in our communities.
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