Overcoming current challenges in women’s sport will pave way for future nostalgia | Megan Maurice

Tradition and club loyalty drives men’s sport but breaking momentum for women now could have devastating consequences

Among all the questions being raised in a world without sport, what this coronavirus-induced break means for women’s sport is a particularly difficult one. Despite huge strides made in recent years, its position is much more precarious than its male counterpart.

The stark differences have been highlighted since the hiatus began, with media coverage pivoting to nostalgic pieces – replays of classic matches and discussions of greatest moments have drifted naturally to men’s sport, for how can women compete with over a hundred years of history and the powerful pull of childhood nostalgia?

And then there are the future issues already beginning to emerge. Two NRLW clubs, the Roosters and the Warriors, have pulled the pin on the 2020 season citing the cost of running a women’s team compared to the profits it brings in. With only two teams committed to a 2020 season, the likelihood it can occur looks increasingly low.

Netball has its own battle on its hands – the upcoming season represents the penultimate year of the broadcast deal with Nine and while initial numbers have been good, Netball Australia will be hoping for a better deal when they renegotiate for a second term.

With the start of Super Netball delayed until at least 30 June and the possibility of a season not taking place at all, this halt in momentum could prove dangerous for the league’s chances of securing a larger piece of an ever-shrinking pie.

How women’s sport comes out of this chaotic period will likely depend on the importance the governing bodies place on the women’s side of their games. This puts netball in a unique position, as it is entirely focused on women. However, despite its history and position as a professional league, the Australian sporting landscape is still a male-dominated space and it may struggle to find its seat at the table in this new world.

While Netball Australia will continue to push the sport, its ability to have an impact in the market depends on the new broadcasting deal and the media attention they can attract.

Women’s cricket, on the other hand, has the benefit of being backed by an organisation that holds power at the bargaining table as well as consistently demonstrating their commitment to the women’s game. Only a few short weeks ago, the Women’s T20 World Cup showed that commitment to the world, with 86,174 fans packing into the MCG for the final.

The success of the WBBL and the move to a standalone season has put the competition in a strong place to continue its momentum. The lack of sport in between the World Cup and the domestic league may even work in its favour, as they will be in effect picking up where they left off.

Less certainty lies in those sports where, although backed by strong power brokers, women’s competitions are seen as a nice to have, rather than essential to operations. The NRLW is a case in point – when budgets need to be cut it is the women’s team that is seen as an easy way to shed some dollars.

The impact on the AFLW and the W-League isn’t as immediately obvious – the timing of the seasons has sheltered them from further consequences for the foreseeable future. However, like the NRLW, these competitions have typically not attracted the same level of funding and marketing as the men’s.

The coming months will reveal a lot about the priorities of these sports and the compromises they are willing to make. Who bears the brunt of the consequences in these cases will clearly demonstrate to fans and potential sponsors the importance they place on their women’s competitions.

There will be a lot of discussion around what is profitable and what costs an organisation money to run. It is an argument women’s sport advocates are overly familiar with, but it will no doubt ramp up as cuts are made.

However, in many of these sports female participation in grass roots competitions is driving the majority of their participation increases. This has happened as a direct result of the visibility of elite women’s competitions. While some of these teams and competitions may not be profitable right now, the long-term future of the sport depends on them.

Tradition doesn’t happen overnight. The momentum that has been building is creating a platform that will continue to grow over many years. The young girls whose mothers take them to see an NRLW game now, will grow into women who take their own daughters to games. Multi-generational tradition and club loyalty drives men’s sport and breaking that momentum now for women could have devastating consequences.

If Australian women’s sport continues on its 2019 trajectory, a similar hiatus 30 years from now could be filled with nostalgic moments from the WBBL, AFLW, W-League, NRL and Super Netball. But if building of the platform is stopped, just as it is beginning to take shape, the future of sport could be irrevocably altered.

Contributor

Megan Maurice

The GuardianTramp

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