Australia’s major sporting codes have made a laudable commitment to ending homophobia on the field and in the stands. However, in this special Life Matters talkback piece Tracey Holmes argues the most ingrained prejudice in Australian sport is against our successful female athletes.
Congratulations to Australia’s professional sport leaders, who were this week praised widely for their commitment to eliminate homophobia—an issue which only affects men and men’s teams, it seems.
The bosses of football, rugby league, Aussie rules and cricket (all men) signed the document along with a selection of representatives from each of the sports—again, all men, with the exception of footballer Sara Walsh, who was conspicuous given her isolation in a sea of testosterone.
Then again, if you watch sport on TV or read about it in the papers, the sea of men that is sport in this country is normal. Panels of men talk about men’s sport endlessly. Coverage on weekends is wall to wall men’s sport with the very odd exception. Nobody thinks it’s unusual to see a virtually woman free zone with the occasional token female thrown in.
On a world scale, Australia’s women’s cricket, football and basketball teams are far more successful than their male colleagues. But who’d know? Male cricketers’ wives get more coverage, and in some instances more sponsorship, than the Australian women’s team. Sally Pearson is a world and Olympic champion in one of the blue ribbon track events and, incredibly, lost sponsorship dollars after her gold medal presentation at London 2012.
Netball’s ANZ Championship, the trans-Tasman league featuring the best teams in Australia and New Zealand, is one of the rare women’s sports on TV, and is broadcast by SBS and Foxtel. Unlike the men’s sports, who earn hundreds of millions of dollars in TV rights, netball has to pay for the production of its own coverage.
Netball regularly plays to sell-out crowds, with the Sydney Swifts last year hosting 8000 fans at one match, more than went to watch one of the games played by their AFL cousins, the Greater Western Sydney Giants. The Giants, though, with the benefit of television broadcast rights, have a salary cap of around $10 million. The Swifts operate under a salary cap of $300,000.
This week, Australia’s women’s football team, the Matildas, beat one of the world’s toughest teams, Brazil. Had the Socceroos done the same thing, we would have had a live broadcast with teams of anchors, reporters, panellists and sideline eyes flown in to cover the game. Front and back page headlines would have screamed about our success and momentary dominance. Be honest, how many headlines did you read declaring the brilliance of the Matildas?
In the words of that great scientific mind, Professor Julius Sumner Miller, why is it so?
It’s not because ‘nobody is interested’, as many of the men who run TV, radio and newspaper sports departments continue to tell us. That argument was shot dead when 50 million people tuned in to watch Australia’s most dominant cricket team, the women’s team, win the 2013 World Cup in India. It was also shot down when SBS recorded a 48 per cent audience jump for the time slot when it broadcast a Matildas World Cup quarter final game. It’s not because the standard is not good enough. Sally Pearson stands alongside Usain Bolt as an International Association of Athletics Federations Athlete of the Year.
It’s not just a sport issue, it’s something far more deeply rooted. It’s a cultural issue that needs a shift, and it cannot happen quickly enough.
I am all for outing homophobia from sport in this country, but I’ll be cheering even louder when Australia’s most powerful sports bosses are referring to women’s sport when they say ‘we will not tolerate discrimination’.
Tracey Holmes is a reporter and presenter on ABC News Radio. She was Australia’s first female host of a national sports program—ABC Grandstand. Life Matters charts and analyses contemporary Australian life, with a special focus on social policy, personal stories, and listener contributions.