It’s 1978. I’m twelve, and nervous. I’m kitted out in black and white stripes, about to take the field at the Port Adelaide Soccer Club for my first “real” football game. I cross the white line, entirely focused. I want to play like Kevin Keegan, and nothing else matters but my team scoring a goal.
All of us who are lucky enough to have played a team sport have memories like this. The moment when we surged into space with the ball at our feet, looking for the killer pass, a piercing run, or a shot on goal. We felt the breeze in our hair and lightness in our feet as we accelerate past one, and another, then released the ball exactly as we wanted. We felt freedom, mastery, achievement.
We learned that being our best means helping others be their best, too. That we were always braver together, that our team was always better when every individual put the team before herself.
Moya Dodd accepting the Women of Influence Award. Image supplied.
On the field, there was no homework, no chores, and no worries. Nothing but green grass, goalposts, some players, and a ball… and nothing else mattered.
As we grew older, the lessons of sport saturated other parts of our lives. As in sport, improvement is incremental and proportionate to effort and desire. As in sport, the friends who stay around when you’re losing are for real. As in sport, doing the right thing doesn’t always correlate with success, but in the long run it definitely improves your chances.
But the sad fact remains that women and girls are less likely to have those sporting lessons than their brothers. Because even in 2016, girls experience sport very differently to boys.
Moya Dodd at the Women of Influence Awards. Image supplied.
Take, for example, the sports holiday camp my kids attended. My son wore his Liverpool kit, triggering a lot of friendly banter with the coaches. Next day my daughter wore hers, anticipating the same attention. She came home disappointed.
“Yesterday, he wore his Liverpool clothes and everyone said ‘yay Liverpool’. But today, I wore my Liverpool clothes, and no-one said ‘yay Liverpool’ to me,” she told me, sadly.
Try explaining to a seven-year-old why it is that a boy in a team jersey is assumed to be knowledgeable fan, while a girl in the same jersey is not. Why an assumption of sporting competency is endowed upon males, even from a young age, while female fans, players and coaches need to prove themselves over and over again.
Take another example: the half-time entertainment at a big stadium. A lucky few kids are out on the field, dribbling towards goals and being hailed by the MC as they put the ball in the net.