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Game changers to come

Game changers to come

By Molina Asthana

Diversity Women's Rights 


Despite increased participation of women in sport, inequality remains in pay, conditions, recognition and media attention. Sport is a universal language but some are not part of the conversation. This is particularly true for women. One of the arguments for inequality in sport is the inherent genetic advantage due to the natural order – a means of defining masculinity itself. Conversely women often have to deal with the notion that sport leads to antisocial behaviour and is at odds with femininity. The benefits of increased participation by women in sport cannot be overstated. Sport increases confidence, self-esteem, social interaction and enables women to develop a spirit of camaraderie. Diversity in sport leads to positive changes and behaviour. AFL Women’s football exemplifies this. In contrast to male players, AFLW players have been able to come out easily and talk about their sexuality without fear of being ridiculed. Unlike men’s AFL which often champions aggression, AFLW has had the impact of breaking stereotypes – championing women as bold, fearless and comfortable with their identity. For migrant women of diverse backgrounds sport can help overcome isolation and depression and promote self belief. It also helps them to get support from peers as part of sporting groups. However, despite the benefits of increased participation of women in sport, there is lack of parity in terms of pay, conditions, recognition, media attention and career pathways. The inequality is exacerbated further by the sexism prevalent in the industry. Pay gaps are glaringly obvious, particularly in some sports. In the ranking of the 100 highest-paid athletes last year, there is just one woman – tennis star Serena Williams. Separate change rooms and availability of training facilities are still issues across all sports. Space is always at a premium and female teams often have to compete with men for these limited resources. Lack of appropriate, safe and accessible infrastructure, including transport to get to sporting facilities, is also an issue. Competitions like the Women’s Big Bash League benefit from free-to-air television coverage but media reporting of women’s sport still lags behind their male counterparts. Lack of male leadership on the issue of sexism detracts from efforts for inclusion. In 2016 Collingwood president Eddie McGuire was accused of sexism after his “drowning” remarks against Age journalist Caroline Wilson. Law and policy can have a role in countering inequality and sexism in sport. Linking of grants and state assistance to the creation of more equitable spaces for women in sport, with an emphasis on innovation in their service delivery/programs to cater for the needs of women, particularly from vulnerable groups, can go a long way in making systemic changes to cultures that inhibit and restrict participation. The Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic) has provisions in relation to discrimination in sport. It covers playing, coaching, umpiring, refereeing and administering sporting activities. A person cannot discriminate against another person by refusing or failing to select the other person in a sporting team or by excluding the other person from participating in a sporting activity. When this discrimination is used positively to create participation opportunities, for example creating a women’s league or women’s only spaces, it can lead to positive changes in diversity and inclusion. However, there are many general and specific exceptions in the Act (particularly in relation to competitive sport), that although individually defensible, provide opportunities to circumvent the intention of the legislation in key areas such as resourcing. Victorian and federal governments have shown a growing commitment to promote diversity in sport. The opening of the Office of Women in Sport in the Victorian Department of Human Services and Health is an example. Further, the National Sports Plan places a heavy emphasis on diversity and inclusion. There is a need for enacting/changing legislation to allow sport for all, adequate infrastructure, equal pay and to permit easy and safe access and privacy in changing rooms and in facilities. What is imperative is the need for women to claim their space – on the field, in the boardroom, in the media, as decision makers, and get the recognition they deserve. Molina Asthana is a principal solicitor, Victorian Government Solicitor’s Office, a Commissioner with the AFL South East Commission and a member of the LIV Council.

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