Julie Bishop: Why we need to celebrate women in sport.

The performance of the Matildas – Australia’s women’s national football team – at the World Cup in Canada reminded us that sport is much more than athletes competing against one another.

The never-say-die attitude of the Matildas revealed the joy and pride of players representing their country, playing with skill acquired over a lifetime of training and with the bravery of a team defiant against the odds stacked against them.

Sports Diplomacy
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Health and Sports Minister Sussan Ley with Diamonds team members Caitlin Thwaites and Sharni Layton. Image: Supplied.

The Matildas’ victory over football heavyweights Brazil – one of the favourites to win the tournament – tapped into a part of Australia’s psyche that is eager for a challenge and the opportunity to compete at the highest level.

As a nation, we have come to expect our sportsmen and women to represent our country with distinction and honour. The performance of the Matildas won many new admirers here and overseas.

Australia has been blessed with a rich sporting tradition, although in many cases the success of our female athletes has not been as recognised or celebrated as it should have been.

The remarkable achievements of sporting greats Dawn Fraser, Betty Cuthbert, Shirley Strickland, Margaret Court and Evonne Goolagong paved the way for our contemporary sporting stars.

We recall with great pride the heart stopping run of Cathy Freeman at the Sydney Olympics and Sally Pearson in London, the fighting spirit of Sam Stosur to win the US Tennis Open, and the dominance of Lauren Jackson and Carrie Webb in basketball and world golf.


We continue to be captivated by Australian athletes, like the multi-talented cricket and football player Ellyse Perry, swimmer Cate Campbell and champion paralympian Jacqueline Freney.

The Netball World Cup in Sydney in August, where the Australian Diamonds will be competing to win the trophy for the third consecutive time, is sure to inspire even more females to become sporting stars.

Sports Diplomacy
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop holding the Asian Football Cup with Mark Falvo, Sally Shippard and Socceroo Brett Emerton of Football Federation Australia, and Health and Sports Minister Sussan Ley. Image: Supplied.

At a time when young women and girls are bombarded through social media with confusing and conflicting messages about identity and behaviour, our top female athletes serve as great role models – both on and off the sporting field. Their determination, professionalism and leadership inspire thousands of women and girls each day to strive for higher goals in their particular fields of endeavour.

Sport can also play a unique role in shaping and showcasing Australia’s identity, values and culture. Through sport, we tell the story of Australia to the world – that we are a modern, dynamic and enterprising country.

Sport has the power to transcend social, cultural, and religious and language barriers. It can capture imaginations, inspire and bring communities together in unparalleled ways.

Last month, athletes from a number of our national sporting teams helped launch the inaugural Australian Sports Diplomacy Strategy, which will deploy sports people in support of trade and development, leverage our sporting events, and promote our sports industry expertise and assets. Minister for Sport, Sussan Ley and I welcomed our sporting heroes to Parliament House for the occasion. Our Sports Diplomacy Strategy will deepen our engagement with countries in our region.


The Government’s sport for development programs in the Pacific are helping to fight diseases like diabetes and obesity, empower women and girls, and teach important life skills such as teamwork and respect.

julie bishop
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop with Mark Falvo of Football Federation Australia. Image: Supplied.

In Papua New Guinea, the Australian Government is funding the NRL’s League for Life program to improve physical, social, literacy and maths skills of 50,000 students in 80 schools over the next three years.

Up to 500 teachers are learning classroom lessons on how they can use rugby league materials to better engage students in reading and writing.

Impressively, over 70 per cent of teachers trained so far and nine of the 14 League for Life development officers are women.

We are also supporting Cricket Australia to promote female empowerment through sport in Fiji. Cricket Fiji has established a health and wellness program for women, providing education about healthy eating and the importance of physical activity.

Our launch of the Australian Sports Diplomacy Strategy signals a new era in cooperation and partnership between the Australian Government and national sporting organisations. It will be an opportunity for us to promote all that is positive about sporting achievement in this country and beyond.

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