The cycle of degradation in Australian emerging women’s sports

Written by Laura Kemp, edited by Claire Louise Sheridan

There’s a demeaning reality in women’s sport across Australia – it attracts lower crowd numbers and is not viewed as professional as men’s sport is, regardless of quality of play.

The lack of advertising in AFL Women’s, and the soccer W-League especially, is a major contributing factor to the issue, and it’s created by a reluctance to invest.

What are the arguments?

It is said that advertisement and merchandising can only be funded through profit from crowd numbers. However, the continuation of a system justified by this argument traps itself, making it even harder to create a successful economic side of emerging women’s sport.

Such a system also continues to perpetuate a convenient degradation of female sport players and their professionalism.

What is the reality?

Unlike in men’s sport, the lack of publicity of female star players and lack of merchandising prevents women’s games from being viewed as real or prestigious. Game times, their locations and their advertised importance also play a major role. These factors eliminate the opportunity for supporters to further connect with and become dedicated fans of players and clubs, and cuts them off from participating fully in supporting their club at games.

These facets contribute massively to the financial flow that enables a cycle of investment and, consequently, profit, which creates a thriving economic side of the game as well as a more professional atmosphere.

Here’s how the cycle continues

With the absence of initial support, there is no stimulation for a successful business side of emerging women’s sport. Without adequate publicity about game times and importance, potential supporters remain in the dark, struggling to get to inconvenient locations. This creates a lower-than-feasible trend in crowd numbers.

Without the profit from high crowd numbers and further lack of funding, merchandise including clothing with star players’ names on them or team-personalised equipment cannot be justified and therefore the growth of personal interest in a team is prevented.

An unfair double standard

This situation is exacerbated by the poor facilitation of games, especially in the examples of the W-League of soccer and the AFLW. Players rarely get to compete in the proper stadiums consistently granted to their male side’s team. Instead, they play at what male professionals in the AFLM and A-League would deem training grounds or suburban pitches.

Male players are seen as above playing at these dismal locations because there would be no means of holding the crowds they attract. In fact, some of the grounds provided to house women’s soccer and football don’t even have stands to sit in.

Again, complaints echo that women’s sport does not draw in enough crowds to make a profit. This is used to explain the placement of the majority of their games in practically hidden grounds that barely offer seating.

Yet this is the inherent vicious cycle women’s sport faces – how is it expected for the sport’s professionalism to grow? How is it possible for emerging women’s sport to draw in crowds if it is undercut before it gets the chance?

Female players are unappreciated

Women’s sport is relegated to the sidelines, portrayed as an add-on or even second-rate standard to men’s sport. This is nothing to do with the quality of play, and stems directly from the lack of financial investment and media representation, setting the standard for the way it can be appreciated.

The lack of investment in its publicity assumes emerging women’s sport in Australia showcases a less interesting or worthwhile manner of play. Unfortunately, this structural aspect of the culture contributes to the reluctance and discouragement from a portion of our society to participate in the game in the way they would if a man was playing. This is despite the fact that the female sports professionals we actually do have the opportunity to witness uphold an excellent and engaging level of talent.

Hope for the future of Australian women’s sport

As emerging sports develop, so too will the standard of players. And, as the support from the public increases in conjunction with increased publicity and funding of proper facilitation, a shift in our society’s cultural outlook on women in sport and their standard in comparison to a man’s will occur.

Currently, many would-be fans are uncertain of the quality of women’s sports, despite there being no predisposition of women to be less skilled or competent. When development and investment happens, spectators will no longer have a predisposition to be more judgemental of women’s sport than they are of men’s.

These structural changes will instil confidence in their professionalism and encourage fundamental development, in turn creating an even higher standard of play.

Such changes will also play an important role in the evolution of our culture in relation to gender equality in Australian women’s sport. When we realise and cultivate the factual belief that gender does not inhibit nor handicap the potential for a sportsperson to excel in their career, eventually, all genders alike will show indiscriminate interest in sport.

Laura is currently a Year 9 student, with an interest in studying Law at University.
She is extremely passionate about women’s rights, and how younger generations can get involved in bringing about the change they want to see in this field.
Using the platforms she has access to, Laura is motivated to help others in the best way she can. This has led her to working with the St. Vincent de Paul Society to set up appeals, speaking and learning about Gender Equality at the 2020 United Nations Youth Conference, and campaigning for practical solutions to various environmental issues.
The opportunity to publish this article has allowed Laura to speak out about issues surrounding women’s sports. She hopes to provide a whole, feminist-oriented view for readers to share, or take something out of.

YWCA Australia wishes to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the lands on which we work, live and play and pay our respects to Elders past and present. We recognise First Nations people as the custodians of the lands, seas and skies, with more than 60,000 years of wisdom, connection and relationship in caring for Country.

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