sports

"Without Susan Alberti, women's sport in Australia wouldn't be where it is today."

The first time I came across Susan Alberti’s name and work was in 2009, when she dared to take on the boys club — namely Sam Newman and his mates — over defaming her.

Being one of the few women working in AFL clubs at the time, and seeing and experiencing things on a daily basis that I wished I could shine the spotlight on, I watched her stand by her values and fight for what she saw as the right thing to do. Susan told the media at the time she “wasn’t intimated by [Sam]”.

‘Wow’, I thought, ‘There is one principled, fearless leader in an industry where the norm was to put up and shut up’. I wanted to grow up and become just like her. And over the years, my hunch is that I’m not the only one who has been inspired by her approach, her work, and her generosity.

Some time after the Newman incident, when I found myself chairing a board of an organisation that looked after the health and wellbeing of women in Susan’s stomping ground, Melbourne’s inner west, I was urged to give her a call. I was reluctant, imagining how it must feel when people know you are filthy rich and call you all the time with all the pleasantries but really all they want is cash.

Susan Alberti with husband Colin North. (Image: ABC)

But I called, and instead of getting the usual assistant peddling out the usual 'thanks-but-no-thanks' response, I got Susan. "Yes", she said without really knowing what I wanted or needed. "I will come to you."

A few days later, Susan arrived at my office. Dressed to the nines, with her driver in tow, you would have been forgiven for thinking the next hour or so was possibly one you would never get back. But she is the absolute example of why you should never judge a book by its cover. Generous with time, ideas and her resources, Susan gets shit done.

A self-described ‘giver, not taker’, Susan is the rare person who has struck the delicate balance between empathy and ruthlessness in order to make lives better and communities stronger. The AFL’s women’s football league was absolutely grounded for many years, nothing more than a concept and a wish that would fall on the deaf ears of the establishment.

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Without Susan, and other leaders like her, it simply wouldn’t have got to this point, where we are on the verge of changing not only the landscape of footy, but creating real and lasting opportunities for women and girls to be the best they can be.

Susan Alberti and footballer Moana Hope. (Image: ABC)

Of course, being a giver, Susan hasn’t restricted her generosity to one sport or even sport itself.

When she heard the story of Melissa Breen (who at the time was Australia’s 100m sprinter) being denied even a modest level of funding to keep her dream of representing Australia alive, Susan stepped in – not once, but twice. She raises funds, promotes public awareness and advocates for finding a cure for Type One Diabetes. And there just the well-known stories of her help. I know plenty of people in footy she has quietly helped over time in various ways, not looking to get her head in the paper in return.

She has put the kudos back into helping just for helping’s sake, and the knowledge that you have made a difference to be reward enough.

Susan Alberti puts her money, alongside her time, passion and intellect, where her mouth is. And the world of sport (as well as all the other worlds she inhabits) is much better off for it.

Leigh Russell’s new book with Bianca Chatfield Game On, published by Hardie Grant books RRP 34.99, is available in stores now.

Susan Alberti will be appearing on Australian Story 'A League Of Their Own' on Monday night at 8pm on the ABC.

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