By NATALIA HAWK
Welcome to Sport on Saturdays.
It’s our new regular weekend post, which will cover all things related to women’s sport. Because in mainstream media, coverage of women’s sport is woefully low.
So low, in fact, that HORSE RACING gets more airtime than women’s sport. Despite the fact that we have some brilliant professional sportswomen representing Australia at both a national and international level.
Mamamia is very proud to be one of the only media outlets in the country that is bringing you dedicated and regular coverage of the achievements of female athletes.
And to kick it all off, we’ve done an exclusive interview with Ellyse Perry – one of Australia’s most impressive female athletes and someone who probably has more talent in her little finger than I do in my entire body.
Ellyse is only 22-years-old and plays on the Australian national teams for two sports. Yes, two.
She made her debut with the Australian women’s soccer team, the Matildas, at the age of 16. Ellyse was also only 16 when she first started playing senior international cricket, making her the youngest Australian EVER – male or female – to take part in senior international cricket.
In 2008, she also became the youngest Australian Test Cricket player and a Cricket Australia Ambassador. And in February this year, she helped Australia win the World Cup against India with her bowling, even though she had an injury.
On the soccer side of things – Ellyse played for the Central Coast Mariners in the Australian W-League before moving to Canberra United, and finally signed with Sydney FC last year. And because it all doesn’t keep her busy enough… she is studying at Sydney University; economics and social sciences.
Ellyse Perry is a household name amongst cricket and soccer fanatics. But hasn’t achieved the superstar status she deserves in the broader community.
Imagine if Shane Warne, Ricky Ponting or Michael Clarke not only played cricket for Australia but also another sport on a national level?
What if the young cricket player who made headlines last week, Ashton Agar, had to schedule a cricket Ashes AND a soccer world cup into his diary? The mainstream media would be going crazy. Sponsors would be falling over themselves to have him represent their brand.
Yes, Ellyse has sponsors. Yes, she’s in the media. But not nearly as much as male athletes. She also earns less than the great majority of professional male athletes.
Despite the recent pay rise for female cricketers from Cricket Australia, top players can still only earn $70,000 to $80,000 in a year.
That’s why just about every female cricketer – not to mention just about every Australian female athlete in general – is also currently undertaking either a full-time job or a full-time university degree as well as participating in their sport on a professional level.
And this, Ellyse said, is a double-edged sword. “I think, for all women in sport, that we’d love to have the opportunity to spend and to devote as much time as humanly possible to being the best athletes that we could, because you don’t have that much time in your life to be an athlete,” she said.
“But we don’t have the financial obligations that some male athletes have, so we actually have an opportunity to do other things in our lives. I look at our team for example, and all the girls either work full time or study. I also think there’s a better connection with society and the way that society works. When you get wrapped up in a sport it’s probably harder to make that transition after you finish playing – and in that way I think it’s a really healthy thing.”
In conclusion? “It’d be really nice down the track to have a really fantastic balance where we can still do both, but a lot of time is spent being an athlete,” Ellyse remarks.
When I asked Ellyse about why she chose to take on an economics degree as well as two professional sports, she said it was mostly about finding a balance in life. “I love training and playing and travelling with sport but it’s also nice to have something to focus on and almost distract you sometimes.”
“I really love school and I love the opportunity to learn and find out new things about the world, and cricket and soccer are a great avenue for some parts of that. But in terms of education and study, I definitely enjoy the degree that I’m doing, and it’s really important to provide balance.”
And that balance might just be why Ellyse is such a down-to-earth 22-year-old, who is so incredibly grateful for the opportunities she’s been provided in life.
“My main motivation has always been to do things because I really love and enjoy them and I think, for all of us, the support that we have to do that is pretty wonderful,” she said.
“I’ve had a lot of wonderful support from both cricket and soccer, but also my family and friends, who are all really supportive and encouraging of what I do.”
Ellyse is especially excited about how Cricket Australia runs their organisation: “They are really supportive and determined to ensure that cricket is Australia’s favourite sport, and in doing so I think they’ve provided a lot of opportunities and avenues for people to be involved in cricket whether you’re male or female, no matter your rank or socio-economic situation.”
And, of course, the pay rise for female athletes: “As a team, for us, it’s really lovely to have that chance to focus more energy and time on playing cricket and I suppose not having the financial burden of being away from work when training.”
Cricket Australia isn’t the only organisation in Australia that’s working towards more recognition of its female athletes.
There are a lot of developments occurring across different sports of different levels that will mean more and more opportunities open up for women.
But then there’s the issue of getting people to take women’s sport seriously. To view it on the same level as men’s sport.
Because when you google “Ellyse Perry”, “Ellyse Perry hot” and “Ellyse Perry boyfriend” are two of the first suggested searches that pop up. On Youtube, the first is “Ellyse Perry bikini”.
To contract, the first search for “Ricky Ponting” is “Ricky Ponting IPL”. Steve Waugh is “Steve Waugh Foundation”. If you search Shane Warne on Youtube, “Shane Warne best wickets” and “ball of the century” come up first.
So how do we get people to start viewing our female athletes as serious competitors in Australia’s favourite sports? “The onus is on athletes and organisations to make sure the way that we present our sport isn’t just to your typical sports fan,” Ellyse says.
“It’s about really capturing other people’s minds and attention, getting a lot more women involved, not just as players but as spectators and fans. I think we’ve done a lot of development in the last five or six years to improve the way that we play and also make it quite professional and engage the people in the community, and that’s a really important part of it.”
So what advice does she have for young girls hoping to get into professional sport?
“I started at quite a young age, at a fairly high level, but to me it was always because I really loved it and every chance that I had to play another game of sport or try out for another team or go away on another trip was really exciting,” Ellyse said.
“I think opening yourself up and putting yourself in situations where you’ve got a chance to have a new experience, or learn new things, or play with new people, or work with new coaches, is always a really important part of development and of achieving your goals and dreams as well.”
And what about sporting organisations – what can they do to get more girls involved?
“Providing women and girls with the opportunity to play with their friends, in an environment that’s really encouraging rather than competitive, is really important… For women – it’s for the experience and the company, and not so much about the results, and that’s a little bit different to how boys see things sometimes.”
But the ultimate point for Ellyse is that her journey is really just beginning. And while female sport has a long way to go, it’s also come a very long way from the days that girls were reduced to sitting on the sidelines.
“I’ve always found that it’s really hard to predict what’s going to happen next and where sport’s going to take you,” Ellyse said. “Overall my major goal is to continue to develop and get better and learn new things about being an athlete and being a better athlete. I think that’s the most rewarding part.”
And that’s true for any athlete – whether male or female.
So. What else has been happening in women’s sport lately? I’M SO GLAD YOU ASKED. Here’s a round-up of news from the last few weeks:
Australian NRL team the Jillaroos won the 2013 Rugby League World Cup in the UK this week. The team ended New Zealand’s 13 year winning streak in the sport – and was Australia’s first women’s World Cup win. Jillaroos coach Paul Dyer said, “We never gave up against a bigger and stronger team and in the end, wore them down with brilliant defence.”
Natalie von Bertouch has announced her retirement from netball. Natalie was captain of both the Australian Diamonds and the Adelaide Thunderbirds.
She led both teams to many victories, including world championship wins in 2007 and 2011, and a championship title in 2010.
Just last weekend, the Thunderbirds won the grand final of the ANZ Championships.
The 30-year-old netballer has recently been limited by injuries and wanted to retire while still on top.
The Diamonds also announced a 17-player squad for their Test series against New Zealand in September and October. The squad includes two debutants – 20-year-old Paige Hadley and Gabrielle Simpson.Australia’s most successful female golfer, Karrie Webb, has accepted an invitation to play the ISPS HANDA Ladies European Masters at the end of this month. Karrie has been a world champion seven times over and has won 50 titles over her 18-year golfing career.
Did anyone miss the women playing in Wimbledon a couple of weeks ago? Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellacqua made it to the final of the women’s doubles, but unfortunately lost to Taiwan. They would have become the first all-Aussie pair to win women’s doubles in 35 years.
Professional Australian squash player Rachael Grinham claimed the Victorian Open title on Sunday, after defeating New Zealander Megan Craig.
Earlier this month, Australian hockey team the Hockeyroos beat England to win the Investec World League.
And last month, the first AFL national women’s draft was held, with 50 of the best female footballers picked to play in the inaugural Women’s Exhibition game between Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs.