Australian sports need women off-field too



On the last Saturday of March in 2017, Bec Goddard made history. As the coach of the Adelaide Crows AFLW team, Goddard led her squad to the inaugural grand final of the women’s competition and the Crows were victorious that day, beating the Brisbane Lions by six points.

Cat Phillips attempting to tackle Dayna Cox during the AFL Women's round six match between Adelaide and Melbourne on 11 March 2017 at TIO Stadium in Darwin, Northern Territory (Flickerd/Wikimedia commons)

Goddard was one of only two female coaches in the AFLW’s first season. Shortly after the end of the second AFLW season, and only six months after winning the Football Woman of the Year award, Goddard and Adelaide had parted ways. Despite leading the team to a premiership in the first season and going close in the second, Adelaide could not, would not, offer Goddard a full-time role with the club.

Less than a week after news of Goddard’s split with the Crows was announced, Michelle Cowan, the head coach of the Fremantle Dockers AFLW team stepped down from her role. As we approach the third season of the AFLW, not one of the ten teams will have a woman at the helm.

This situation is not specific to the AFL. Figures from the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) reveal that women make up less than 15% of high performance coaches in Australia. Of the 160 accredited coaches in the Australian team at the Rio Olympics in 2016, only 15 were women. The numbers are hardly better in the boardroom. Of the more than sixty national sporting organisations across the country that receive funding from Sports Australia and the AIS, women make up only 22% of board chairs and 13% of CEOs.

In 2003, Women’s Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricket Board merged to form Cricket Australia. Yet it would take nearly a decade for a woman to be appointed to the Cricket Australia board with Jacquie Hay making history in 2012. No woman has ever served as Chair or CEO of Cricket Australia. Raelene Castle was appointed CEO of Rugby Australia in 2017, the first woman in the role. There are currently two women on the board of Rugby Australia. Soccer fares no better, with only one woman currently on the FFA Board.

A new program from Sports Australia and the AIS is attempting to address this disparity. The AIS Talent Program, launched last week, is open to sports executives and high performance coaches and according to Sports Australia CEO Kate Palmer, ‘it will help identify, develop, retain and progress talent that can challenge the status quo and increase diversity in sport’.


"Programs like the year-long AIS Talent Program are important, not only for providing women with skills, experience and networks but also for shining a spotlight on the issue."


The importance of having women in these roles is no better exemplified than by Sam Mostyn, the first woman appointed to the AFL Commission. Mostyn, who joined the Commission in 2005, took up the baton of women’s football and alongside Linda Dessau, who was appointed to the AFL Commission in 2008, was instrumental in the development of the AFLW.

As Sam Lane writes in her 2018 book, Roar, the AFL Commission of the mid to late 2000s under CEO Andrew Demetriou were hardly enthused by women’s football, the game was ‘neither prioritised, not particularly valued’. That this attitude persisted at the executive level of arguably one of the biggest sporting organisations in the country despite the role women have played in the success of the game is quite damning. That it took a woman, or women, to change it is hardly surprising.

Back on the field, the sporting landscape is changing. Domestically, we’ve seen the beginning of the W-League in 2008, the WBBL in 2014/2015, followed by the AFLW in 2017 and the NRLW in 2018. Internationally, the Southern Stars retained the Ashes in 2017 and remain among the most decorated sporting teams in Australian history. The Women’s Rugby 7s team won the gold medal at the Rio Olympics and the Matildas won the Public Choice Team of the Year at the 2017 Australian Institute of Sport Awards, recognition of their success but also of their popularity with fans across the country.

However, that on-field success hasn’t coincided with an uptick in female coaches on the sidelines. All three national women’s teams, the Southern Stars, Wallaroos and Matildas, are coached by men. Of the four inaugural teams in the NRWL competition, all but one are coached by men. The suggestion isn’t that men shouldn’t coach women’s sport. Instead, the question is why are women so often excluded from these opportunities? And why, when they do get them, are they not provided the same support to succeed. Bec Goddard, a premiership winning coach, wanted a full-time role, the same full-time role her male successor now enjoys.

Programs like the year-long AIS Talent Program are important, not only for providing women with skills, experience and networks but also for shining a spotlight on the issue. Women have been playing cricket in Australian since the late nineteenth century so why, after the formation of Cricket Australia, did it take a decade for them to get a seat on the governing board? Women have played rugby in Australia since at least the 1930s, but it’s 2017 before a woman leads Rugby Australia? Systemic issues. Inherent bias. A boy’s club mentality. It’s too simple to say that women have not applied for these roles. And the more important question is why so many sporting organisations are not actively looking to fill their boards and coaching staff with people that reflect their participants and fan base.

In her post match speech on that Saturday afternoon in March, Bec Goddard quoted a John Farnham song:

‘We have the chance to turn the pages over

We can write what we want to write.'

For sporting organisations across Australia, the same is true. They can get more women into executive positions. They can get more women into coaching roles. They can write a new, inclusive and representative story. They just need to want to.


Kirby FenwickKirby Fenwick is a writer and co-host of the podcast Literary Canon Ball. Her audio documentary, The First Friday in February, which tells the story of the first AFLW game, recently won the 2018 Oral History Victoria Award.


Main image: Cat Phillips attempting to tackle Dayna Cox during the AFL Women's round six match between Adelaide and Melbourne on 11 March 2017 at TIO Stadium in Darwin, Northern Territory (Flickerd/Wikimedia commons)

Topic tags: Kirby Fenwick, Australian sport, AFLW, Cricket Australia, Rugby Australia, gender diversity



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Existing comments

Interestingly, women have always been at the forefront of Australia's Olympic and other international sporting competitions and have historically outperformed men despite the lack of gender based programs etc. It seems that the blokes are the ones with the problems - possible caused by gender based programs etc!
john frawley | 15 November 2018

In today's Australian newspaper, there were four pages of the huge broadsheet pages devoted to sport. I didn't find one word of those many hundreds of words written about women's sport. And, of course, each of the many photos were male
MicheleMadigan | 16 November 2018


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