Women’s Sport Coming to the Fore

There is a saying behind every successful man there is a woman pushing hard. This may soon be changed to behind every successful sport there are women pushing hard. As in Australia it would appear that women are very much the key on the sporting landscape, and moving forward.

Australia’s Women have traditionally been leaders in world sport in terms of success.

At the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich 16% of the Australia team was made up of women. In Rio we sent more female athletes (214) than we did male (208). The male athletes won three gold medals and the females won five.

At the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014 it was the same story with 52% of the team being female. Women won two of the three medals won by Australia. Australian Women have won seven of Australia’s twelve Winter Olympic medals.

In London at the 2012 Olympic Games, 20 of the 35 medals won by Australia were won by women. This was similar to 2008 in Beijing where Australian women won 58% of the Australian medal haul, leaving men with 42%. In fact according to the Australian Olympic Committee, “on an athlete-per-team-member basis, female Australian Team members have a 36% chance of winning a medal and men have a 22% chance (based on Beijing 2008 results).”

This success can translate to other sports as well, for example the Australian women’s Hockey team has won three Gold medals to the men’s one. Women’s hockey was only introduced at the 1980 Olympic Games whereas the men’s tournament has been contested for over 100 years.

If we look at football the FIFA Women’s World Cup started in 1991 and the Matildas failed to qualify for that tournament, but have participated in every tournament since. The men’s tournament started in 1930 and Australia has qualified for only four tournaments. The men have managed to progress past the group stage just once, the women have made the quarter finals at the last three World Cups. Tim Cahill has the rare distinction of scoring at three goals at three seperate World Cup Finals, but so too does Lisa de Vanna.

Since Australia moved into Asia from Oceania, the Matildas have been runners up twice in the Asian Cup and won the tournament in 2010 becoming the first Australia side to lift an AFC’s premier trophy. The men have been runners up once and have lifted the trophy once in 2015, on home soil.

If we turn our attention to cricket, the men’s cricket world cup commenced in 1975 and since then Australia’s men have won five titles, including three back to back from 1999-2007. The women’s World Cup started in 1973 and is also usually held every four years and the Southern Stars have won six titles. They have also won three titles in a row from 1978-1988.

The T20 World Cup commenced in 2007 for the men, and there have been six tournaments; since 2010 every two years. Australia’s men have never lifted this trophy. The women’s T20 World Cup started in 2009 and the Australian team has won three titles and lost the final when trying to win their fourth consecutive T20 World Cup earlier this year.

When it comes to Rugby, everyone knows how the Women’s Sevens team lifted Gold at the inaugural tournament in Rio. They have also managed to win the women’s rugby sevens world cup, back in 2007. Their male counterparts in Rio finished 8th and have never won a World Cup or Commonwealth Games Gold medal; the women’s Sevens will debut at the Commonwealth Games in 2018.

When it comes to the fifteen-a-side format the men have been more successful, but their game has been played for a lot longer. The women played their first test match in 1994. The men back in 1899. The men have won two World Cups both in the amateur era, and have made the final twice and lost. The Women’s Rugby World Cup started in 1991, but Australia’s Wallaroos did not participate until 2002. The team’s best finish is third in 2010.

The one thing that all of these comparisons illustrate is that women’s sport in Australia is extremely strong.

Is it therefore any surprise that the AFL has suddenly started to try and cash in on this?

The only surprise is that it has taken them so long. Yet the reasons that it has taken so long has less to do with female opportunity than to do with the marketability of sport and negotiating television rights.

The AFL has good numbers when it comes to female supporters, but it has very poor numbers when it comes to participation numbers from females. The AFL needs to continually grow its television audience to maintain the lucrative television contracts it has. The only way it can grow that is to have more females involved in the game, who will then become potential viewers.

Football has outstanding female participation numbers. Yet its area of concern for the local game is that the male numbers playing the game around the country are not being converted into television viewers or going to A-League games in the numbers that you would expect.

Cricket again has strong support from female viewers and always has, be it at the grounds or on television. Although there are plenty of women who simply cannot stand the game and would never sit and watch a minute of a test match. Yet T20 has been a hook to bring some of those non-viewers to the game and help cricket squeeze more money from the game’s broadcasters.

When it comes to general television viewing, any television executive will tell you that in the main the female in the household determines what programs are watched and when. So it makes perfect sense that the AFL and all of the other sports in Australia are now turning their attention to Women’s sport.

The news that Channel Seven’s broadcast of the women’s exhibition match at the weekend between Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs at Whitten Oval drew the best ratings of any Saturday night game this year, after the network broadcast the game nationally on 7mate, would be music to the television executives ears. This opens up the possibility of a whole new advertising revenue stream at top dollar.

For the men’s sport it also possibly shows that complacency has set in in terms of the product being served up to viewers. In a fast-paced ever-changing world, sports fans want to see more innovation. No longer will four ex-players sitting behind a desk spouting cliches satisfy their thirst, when there is so much sport on offer. Those sports whose television coverage evolves, and continues to innovate will be the ones that thrive in the next five years.

As for the power of women’s sport, this too could have a massive impact in the next five years. The pay for female athletes is creeping up, which is in turn allowing some to spend more time dedicated to their chosen sport, and not having to juggle training with a full time job. It is not there yet, where many can be full time athletes, but that day is on the horizon.

The fact that during the Rio Olympics in pubs in the UK landlords switched channels from a Manchester United game to watch the GB Women’s hockey team play their gold medal match, and by all accounts there were few complaints, is remarkable. The viewing figures for that game were in excess of 9 million in the UK. Since winning Gold the team has not been out of the papers. Does this not prove that Women’s sport has come of age? That women in sport now are almost on even footing with their male counterparts?

Maybe it shows that despite what the newspapers believe many fans are sick of hearing from overpaid underperforming stars who actually say little worth listening to.

There was a time when people simply put women’s sport down as not being up to the same standard as the men’s. In truth physically it will probably never match the men’s, but the women’s sport has come of age. Now women have started to deliver their own style and not tried to match the men. For example women’s football is a far better spectacle for the fact that few of the women roll around in supposed agony after being clipped by an opposition player. There is an honesty about the way they play. A no-nonsense style that is no longer in the male game, and most fans mourn it’s loss.

Australia to many has long been a male chauvinistic country, but the performances of Australia’s female athletes has helped break down many of those stereotypical views. It is great news for sport that the women are finally receiving recognition and coverage. Let us just hope that they are not now exploited just to broker a better television deal in which their male counterparts will reap the financial rewards.

Women’s Sport Coming to the Fore

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