User:Emmy/Sport's patriarchal hold on sport behaviour

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Since life on earth began, gender equality has always been an issue and in more recent times it has become rather notable in sport. However, as time has progressed women have gained the rights and are gradually becoming more empowering in society and gaining positions of leadership and senior management. The United Nations recognises the use of sport to promote gender equality and empower women as the International Olympic Committee are promoting the need of women in top administrative roles and working with former top female athletes in anticipation to increase the number of women in leadership roles in sport. The ASC have also established two programs in aim to assist with addressing these concerns; Sport Leadership Grants and Scholarships for Women Programs and Women in Sport Leadership Register. There are many issues that we are faced with and will continue to arise, with the stereotypical inhospitable culture, lack of female participation, champions and role models it proves a difficult task to engage women in the first place to become active in high powering positions. Not only having women actively involved managerial positions but also engaging them in sport instead of the ‘conventional housewife’ or overcoming the clichéd illusion of pregnant women not deemed appropriate for different levels of exercise. This article will also discuss and evaluate Australia’s position with attitude towards women’s sport in Australia, looking in particular at issues that constantly surround Netball Australia and the Australian and New Zealand Netball League, The Matildas and The Opals.


For women in Australian sport, whether they are a professional athlete, have an administrative or managerial role in sport, or simply participate in local or recreational activity, endure to a great extent hardship compared to males that are involved in same profession. For many years Australian women have constantly been faced with discrimination, lack of sponsorship and support which have ultimately lead to a number of issues that need to be addressed. This journal will seek to provide an in-depth evaluation and discuss the following major issues:

  • Women in leadership roles, such as coaching, administrative and managerial
  • The portrayal of women’s sport in the media, especially involving TV coverage, promotion and publicity of national league competitions and the financial status
  • The accessibility for women to participate in organised sport, fitness and recreational activities, carefully focusing on the number of women participating, the characteristics of those not participating (age, disability, pregnancy and Indigenous or Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) women), the effectiveness of current state and federal grants, the trends and participation in grassroots level
  • The lack of champions and role models for women compared to men and how this has an influence on the participation and involvement of women in sport

It can be noted that perceptions of sports are socially constructed and by questioning the above issues and opinions, we have the opportunity to transform behaviour.

Australia vs England 2008. Photo by paddynapper

Women in high power positions[edit]

The number of women on sporting boards has always been lacking in numbers and continues to be under-represented by males in the decision making structures of sport and organisations. Reports show that the number of women on the NSO board is at a low, with women only having an average of 13 per cent involvement in executive positions. Environment, Communications, Information, Technology and the Arts Reference Committee, (2006) The ASC have identified a number of barriers for women’s leadership in the country with the main motives being the lack of past professionals and role models getting involved and embracing change and talent, the lack of female participation downstream as many women remain the minority in local sporting clubs therefore finding it harder to progress to leadership positions and the stereotypical image and culture which has always been a major issue for women resulting in them having very little participation or none at all in grass root levels, thus discouraging them of any leadership roles. While it is obvious that there are a number of concerns for females representing high powering positions, many organisations are working effortlessly towards changing the current perception and status of women in Australian sport. The ASC has identified the promotion of women in sport as one of their key priorities and have enforced this with a number of funding schemes through the Sports Leadership Grants and Scholarships for Women and with the establishment of the Women in Sport Leadership Register. The AOC is also working towards advancing female representation on their boards, along with the IOC which introduced in 2006 a 20 percent gender representation in all National Olympic Committees, which the AOC satisfied these conditions with a representation of 21 per cent. Another requirement for all State Olympic Councils is for the executive boards to have at least one member out of the possible four to five members in addition to the president, vice president and executive directors to be female. Environment, Communications, Information, Technology and the Arts Reference Committee, (2006) Currently on the AOC board, 2 out of the possible 8 positions are filled by females in the senior management roles, with a further large representative of women in the executive office, sport and operations, marketing and finance. Australian Olympic Committee,(2011) Certain NSO in Australia that have higher female participation rates in their sport have recruited gender equality on their boards. Hockey Australia is just one example in which their constitution states that no gender will contribute less than 35 per cent of the board’s membership. Environment, Communications, Information, Technology and the Arts Reference Committee, (2006) Netball Australia is another organisation that has a very dominate female board and in which some of the members, such as Sue Taylor have also represented the sport in a leadership role internationally. Netball Australia,(2011) However there are a number of NSO in Australia that perform less well in ensuring a quality gender mix including the PGA, Basketball Australia, AFL, the Paralympics committee and Cricket Australia. Environment, Communications, Information, Technology and the Arts Reference Committee, (2006) Australia has a very male-dominant sports culture which proves to be another key barrier of women’s participation. Ms Reid’s comment in the report of ‘Women in sport and recreation in Australia’ states that ‘the society we live in is a very male dominant society and in which sport becomes a reflection of this and women have the challenge of prevailing attitudes that encompass their participation in some sports and the leadership roles in organisations.’ This demonstrates the need for change in which Ms Reid goes on to further identify that ‘this doesn’t rely on individual activists or women’s sport agencies, but with national and state organisations and also local clubs.’

The portrayal of women’s sport in the media[edit]

During the past a number of comments have been made in regards to women playing professional sport in which various male perceptions have been made very clear.

The Matilda's. Photo by camw

Journalist Greg Baum stated that “Women’s soccer is a joke. Women’s cricket is not much better. Netball is OK, sometimes, when there is nothing else on. But women’s basketball is not. Women runners, jumpers, throwers, cyclists and swimmers do their best, but it is, by definition, second-best.” Baum, (2006)

It is remarks made like these that discriminates women and their sport and makes further sexist opinions seem more acceptable to society. Whether or not comments like these are true or society agrees with them, women playing Australian sport should not be denied the privilege to play their chosen sport and represent their country, team or local community if men can do the same. Many Australian women’s sports have achieved high success and outstanding team efforts; however the media continues to deprive them of support, coverage and sponsorship that most male sports receive. A prime example of this was when the Australia Diamonds played the New Zealand Ferns in a test match just prior to the World Championships; however channel TEN didn’t screen the game until 24 hours after the match had been played and televised the game at midnight. Fans were furious with the channel, commenting on how ashamed they should feel and how disgraceful it is to see that the most popular female sport in Australia wasn’t even broadcasted at a reasonable hour. Knox, (2011) In addition to this the Netball World Championships were shown on delay, which Australia won in a thrilling final against New Zealand, yet the recent Rugby World Cup shows live matches on a major free-to-air channel, in which the Wallabies only won bronze. This says a lot our country especially as we call ourselves ‘a sporting nation’ and how well we ‘support’ our elite athletes that are representing our country. Salaries and sponsorship is another debate that continues to be an issue for female athletes, as many still have to work full or part time to support themselves and do not receive any forms of sponsorship and more often than not pay from their own pockets to train and play the sport they love. Comparing this to some male athletes who receive phenomenal wages and this occurs not just in Australia, but worldwide. In Australia popular male sports such as AFL, Rugby League and Union are also entitled to payments of television rights and sponsorships, whilst the leading female sports Netball and Basketball have only recently stopped paying for their sport to be broadcasted, a practice that Hockey still faces. Steel, (n.d) In comparing elite athletes salaries, Netball Australia has a combined earnings of $500,000 annually that has to spread amongst 128 players which is described as a ‘mere pittance’ when compared to male athletes. Canberra capitals coach Carrie Graf comments on the salary difference for the NBL who have a salary team cap of $776,000 compared to the WNBL which is regarded to as barely professional, in which superstars such as Jackson and veteran Opals are lucky to receive $30,000-$40,000 which barely covers playing expenses. Soccer and Tennis are all in a similar state in which men are the primary focus and receive higher salary and tournament prize money despite the same effort, time and training that women endure. Environment, Communications, Information, Technology and the Arts Reference Committee, (2006)

Australian Basketball player Lauren Jackson. Photo by Gina

Women’s accessibility to sport, recreation and physical activity[edit]

Australia’s history with women and sport have seen major changes since the pioneer days when women were restricted completely as it was not ‘socially etiquette’ for women to be seen playing sport. Major government moves helped open the door for many women with the induction of the 1984 Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act which forced many sporting clubs to allow female participation. Australian Sports Commission, (2011) Today, women are still face with barriers however strategies to encourage greater number of participants are promoted to Australia’s young girls and female adults. According to The Senate Report-Women in Sport and Recreation in Australia a general conclusion can be made that less women participate in sport and recreation than men. The report reveals that the involvement of girls in physical activity significantly drops off in early teenage years and the need for overall physical activity for women is greater than it is for men. Age has proven to be a major influence on participation levels, with the increase in age comes declining participation rates. Motherhood and pregnancy also attract mix emotions in regards to the level of physical activity and proves as a major factor of decreased levels in sport, as well as women’s focus is generally aimed towards the social participation and enjoyment of sport rather than the competitive and physical side. Another issue that Australia continues to witness are the high levels of immigration from the Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) origins. Therefore Australia is facing rather large populations of health problems. Women from these areas have shown to be at an increased risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and poor mental health and are more likely to be less proactive towards physical activity. Caperchoine et al, (2011) Whilst it is clearly evident that there are many issues surrounding women and their levels of participation, programs have been established to attempt to overcome this situation. The Australian Womensport and Recreation Association Inc (AWRA) was incorporated in 2005 as a non-government organisation that seeks ‘A strong and healthy Australian culture that supports the active participation of women and girls in sport physical activity and recreation.’ Crosswhite, J (2011) Working alongside many NSO the program also aims to increase leadership skills through a mentoring project. Many state governments are also specifically aiming programs towards women to increase physical activity levels and ensure that women understand the importance of perusing a healthy and active lifestyle.

Women Role Models in sport[edit]

Despite families being a major influence and role model for their children, the literature review on Sports Role Models and their Impact on Participation in Sport supports the theory that athletes provide a strong influence for children. However in Australia there is a lacking of role models for young girls which could suggest a reason to the lower participation rates compared to boys. Males have the support and positive influence of many sportsmen and from a variety of sport unlike women. Men have the strong influences of AFL superstars, champion boxers, Tennis, Rugby and Cricket, whilst women have very few sports stars that promote their sport and have an active role in engaging children in physical activity. The importance of sports role models can be reinforced through cricket’s legend Sir Donald’s Bradman’s comment ‘It is the responsibility of all those that play the game to leave the game in a better state than when they first became involved,' Human Rights Commission, (n.d) something that Australia’s women’s athletes are struggling to do. Netball Australia is one of the very few that are major activists in the promotion and recognising as being role models for young girls, as they have distinguished the dangers that result from lacking female sport role models. Netball Australia believes that the absence of media presence in female sport stars result in young girls turning to the cover girls of teen magazines or their favourite television star, which can result in poor self image and a lot of the time can represent traits and features that are not ideal for women, such as being ‘thin and skinny’. Arguments are made that if there was greater television coverage and advertisement of women’s sport it would be more likely that young girls would choose them as their role models compared to people in the entertainment business. Environment, Communications, Information, Technology and the Arts Reference Committee, (2006) This lack of promotion in women’s sport can be seen in the case of The Matilda’s, who despite being one of the best hockey teams in the world, young girls are unaware or oblivious of the players or their names.


This article considers many factors circulating the business and politics of women in sport and the major issues that Australia are facing. These issues will continue to challenge Australia however they all can be addressed but need the support, especially society who needs to accept and consider change to the structure of sport in Australia. Through the discussion of these main issues, it is also apparent that major sporting and governing bodies need to support and promote women as they are the major bodies and by continuing the many programs that have been established will assist in aiming towards providing equality between Aussie female and male sporting athletes.


  • Caperchoine C, Kolt G, Tennent R, Mummery W 2011, Physical activity behaviours of culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) women living in Australia: A qualitative study of social cultural influences, viewed 29 October 2011,
  • Environment, Communications, Information, Technology and the Arts Reference Committee 2006, Women in Sport and Recreation in Australia, Senate Printing Unit Parliament House, Canberra,