Must women pass ‘Blood Sport Test’

20.11.2020

As we prepare to head into a welcome summer of sport, Gold Coast sports media consultant, Game Plan Communications’ director Wayne Hickson looks at where women’s sport in this country is headed.

Just a thought … but, do you think the only way women are achieving any street cred in sport is by limping back into the sheds bloodied and bruised?

Has the Pub Test decided that we will give them sporting equality, only if the pass the ‘Blood Sport Test’?

There is no doubt women’s sport has blossomed on and off the field over the past five years.

You don’t have to look far. The Gold Coast has a team in the AFLW, women’s rugby league has a full-on premiership competition and women’s cricket is going so strong that names like Meg and Ellyse are as household as Mitchell and Davey, even if our national cricket teams are strangely nickname-less.

‘Straya’ is the best go-to we can muster.

Indeed, these sports are suddenly commanding live television and radio coverage on the channels watched by grownups and are receiving massive attention from advertisers that not too long ago had unashamedly blokey-looking budgets.

And while that sounds all well and good, maybe there is something not entirely right with this picture.

Could it be that women have had to whack in the mouthguard and put on grilled helmet and take full contact hits to appease sponsors and a Y chromosome-heavy public baying for something more from their women’s sports offerings?

After all, netball and hockey and soccer get their time to shine every four years at Commonwealth Games or the Olympics, but we don’t really give much of a stuff about warming the set and cooling the tinnies to watch them in between. Do we?

That’s mainly because they’re hardly ever on TV in the first place.

And here’s the real curve ball question.

Could women’s sports like hockey and netball – that currently enjoy some of the highest team participation rates in the country – be in danger of losing what lean corporate sponsorships they have, and indeed participants, as young girls run towards the big dollar lights of footy and cricket?

There’s no bottomless pit of sports sponsorship money in this country, particularly as the corporate sector tightens its belt to the last notch because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Sponsors will be increasingly select, for a while anyway, about where best to spend their money and it’s probably not too much of a stretch to imagine that if the sport is not on prime time television, it’s not really happening.

But will we ever get used to the sight of a women’s AFLW player being stretchered off the ground with a ruptured ACL or a bloodstained top or stars circling her head like they do in the cartoons?

Because, with more women participating in the contact, more-likely-to-bruise sports, where those things are more likely to happen, it’s going to take a long time for many people to get used to this scenario.

It’s a tad awkward reading those last two paragraphs back because any culture that offers any sportsman or sportswoman the opportunity to play whatever they want, as hard as they want, in whatever arena they want, must be good and envied by those that don’t.

And any circumstance that gives a happy little Vegemite like Ashleigh Barty the choice between representing the green and gold in cricket or tennis and whatever bloody else she wants to play can’t be an entirely bad thing.

It is indeed a fantastic future when those little girls born at the Gold Coast University Hospital today can set themselves to be AFLW Suns players in 16 or so years’ time.

And what’s even more brilliant is that they can surf, be ironwomen, play football, cricket or hockey or whatever code of rugby, netball or lacrosse or even take up an eSport or some crazy XSport not yet dreamed of.

Either way they’ll have many more choices than generations past.

In this heady world of media and sponsorship and magazine covers and a decent pay packet and all those things, that must be a saving grace.

Indeed, there are more than a few fingers crossed that our national sporting recovery sees equal support for both men and women.

But as we head into 2021, spare a thought for the Matildas, Hockeyroos, Opals and our rugby 7s defending Olympic champions who have largely self-funded their way to next years’ COVID-delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Let’s cheer them on now and for always: ‘Straya’!