On this opinion piece, Channel Nine sports presenter and founder of Sportette.com, Sam Squiers (pictured below), reminds us all that while women’s sport is finally being taken seriously, it takes more than one good year for change.
Can you see the cracks? They’re there clear to see in sport’s glass ceiling and they currently display the distinctive marks of a football, netball and cricket ball.
This year is already proving to be a breakthrough year for women’s sport – the WBBL was another success, the AFLW exceeded expectations and netball continues to gain momentum in its new home on Channel 9. It’s only April, yet this year is already being hailed as the dawn of a new era, the start of something big for female athletes, the pathway to gender equality in sport.
But before the backslapping begins, it’s important to be reminded that it takes more than one good year for change and past experiences didn’t lead to parity nor prosperity.
For example, 1999 was thought to be a watershed year for women’s sport. The USA won the FIFA Women’s World Cup and put women’s football on the map. Around 90,000 people packed into the Rosebowl to watch the final – the largest crowd at a women’s sports event – while another 40 million were glued to their TVs. The girls featured on the news, in the papers and the photo of Brandi Chastain celebrating in her sports bra became an iconic image. To capitalise on the popularity, US Soccer announced it would form a professional women’s soccer league the next year. It folded after just three years and it would be another six before it was even attempted again.
The sporting and social landscape has changed a lot since 1999, but even recent events make us cautious. In 2014, a women’s Tour de France re-emerged on the calendar, held as a one-day event to coincide with the final day of the men’s race. ‘La Course’ was an instant success as the women raced on Paris’ famed stretch, the Champs-Elysées, with thousands lining the streets watching on and the event was broadcast globally. Although just a one day criterium, it was hoped it would develop into a multi-stage race to show the strength of women’s cycling. Yet last year, organisers announced that instead of a multistage race, it would be a one day race in the mountains in 2017. 67 kilometres to line up with the men’s 178km mountain stage. It was a major disappointment. Not only did it no longer incorporate the biggest day of the Tour de France, it was now held on a Thursday with even fewer television eyes on the event.
This is not to say this year won’t be different – rather, it’s a warning. Before we get too cocky about the success of women’s sport, there’s still the dreaded second year syndrome to come – the year when it’s not new and when expectations grow. These girls can meet those expectations, but they need continued fan, stakeholder and their sport’s support.
There is a legacy from 1999 and 2014 though, and that’s the inspiration they gave to a new generation of little girls. It gave them role models – strong women to aspire to be. They broke down barriers and taught these girls that you can be anything you want to be. Those years laid the foundations of where we are today, but let’s learn from their mistakes and not make them again.
So, stop the celebrations and start planning on how to grow the game from here, because while there may be cracks in the glass ceiling, we haven’t shattered it yet.