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Why the Women in League round is so much more than a token gesture.

It’s been called irrelevant and ineffective and just a shameless promotional tool for sponsors, but the Women in League round is important.

Last weekend the NRL held its annual Women in League Round to coincide with Mother’s day.

In a hard hitting article on the 2014 Women in League Round (see here), journalist and avid League fan Karen Hardy listed six reasons why she thinks the Round is ‘irrelevant’ and also condescending.

Let’s be clear – the Women in League Round is merely a promotional tool. But does that make it irrelevant or ineffective (or indeed condescending)?

Many organisations, particularly international agencies, designate a day on which they seek to raise awareness of a cause or a group that is important to them (including women). Most traditionally male sports in Australia seek to attract more women to their sport. They do it to increase participation, membership and spectator numbers. In the most crass terms, they do it because it makes good business sense.

But does that make it wrong? Is the NRL failing to attract women to the game?

Raiders boss Don Furner says, “the Women in League round gives the NRL and clubs the opportunity to promote female involvement across all parts of the game from participation to administration. It’s also an opportunity to encourage more women to become involved in the game through showing what women have achieved in the sport.”

The Australian Jillaroos need exposure too. Image supplied.

A key objective of any football club is to communicate effectively to parents, particularly mothers, to help increase junior participation.

Furner says that the Canberra Raiders are, “one of the few NRL clubs which assist in the administration and funding of local rugby league. During the season the Raiders conduct junior club visits, where all members of the team are assigned to a junior club and attend training sessions and assist club coaches.”

In terms of membership, around 23 per cent of Raiders members are female. The female membership across the game is only 25 per cent.

The more physical nature of rugby league is sometimes cited by parents, particularly mothers, as a reason not to guide their children towards sports like rugby league. The Soccer Mum phenomenon in the USA could also become a factor in Australia where mothers guide their children towards less physical sports (such as Soccer).

For more: Big news: Women’s Rugby league will be on your TV this weekend.

Debbie Ford, CRRL Junior Competition administrator says, “junior rugby league has a number of measures in place to make the game as safe as possible for junior participants. They have a safe play code which protects participants from any type of foul play or any act during the game which is deemed dangerous..”

In the media generally (eg Andrew Webster in the SMH on 15/4) and on the Footy Show in particular, there have been suggestions the NRL should ‘Bring back the Biff’. While there is little the NRL can do about such media reporting, it does make it harder to encourage more women to appreciate and support rugby league. The appointment of Erin Molan to the panel of the Footy Show is a positive.

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Having a woman on the Footy Show like Erin Molan is definitely a positive. Image via @nrlfootyshow Instagram.

Furner says, “the NRL has taken measures over the past 12-18 months to eradicate any overly aggressive play in matches including fighting and the Raiders fully support their decision.”

Bad behaviour by spectators is another issue that may deter women and families from attending rugby league matches.

For more: “Rugby League culture has been exposed this weekend as the big, festering boil it is…”

Furner says, “the Raiders, in conjunction with GIO Stadium, have a clear and strict policy on spectator behaviour and do not tolerate any bad behaviour by spectators. We promote Raiders home matches as a family friendly environment.

He goes onto say that, “fortunately for the Raiders we have a generally well behaved fan base and we have had few issues in the past.”

The Raiders are a friendly bunch. Image via @raiderscanberra Instagram.

One of the means by which football clubs can change their “blokey” culture (and attract more women) is by employing more female staff, particularly in senior positions. The appointment of the first female CEO of an NRL club, Canterbury-Bankstwon Bulldogs’ Raelene Castle, represents a significant milestone for the NRL. She has reportedly doubled female membership at the Bulldogs.

In terms of the Raiders, around a third of their staff at their main office in Canberra are female (nine out of 31). This does not include the Raiders accounts department which has a much higher portion of female staff.

For more: If we’re going to win, we need to see more women at the top.

The Raiders have four female staff in senior positions. They include Yvonne Gillett: Chief Financial Controller (Semi-Retired) of the Raiders Group and also a member of the Raiders Board of Directors. But one female member of the Board compares to the recent announcement by AFL Club Western Bulldogs, that they will have four female Board members out of nine. Seems most football clubs have a long way to go on this measure. Perhaps the impact of Julia Gillard’s association with the Western Bulldogs?

It is notable, however, that there are no women in senior coaching positions at the Raiders. This is a another challenge for the future as having women in senior coaching positions could help significantly with club culture.

You can read the full article where this post was simultaneously published on www.yabba.guru, a new Australian sports website which gives equal weight to coverage of men’s and women’s sport. For more coverage across netball, cricket, soccer, hockey, softball, athletics and more check out Yabba.Guru.

What sport have you been playing or watching this week?

And in other sporting news this week…

It’s been announced that the first AFL women’s match will be streamed on The AFL Website on Sunday May 24th. It will be streamed live from the very first Melbourne-Western Bulldogs women’s match that’s being played at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). Jason Bennett will be the host for both matches. A great step forward for women’s AFL.

There was some shock when the Matilda’s World Cup squad was announced this week and Kate Gill and Brianna Davey weren’t included. They are veterans and stars of the sport, but coach Alen Stajcic is sticking to his decision, saying that it’s what’s best for the squad going over to Canada.

A world-first study has revealed that youth sport is not safe for gay Australians. It was a world-first study looking in to homophobia in sport and it found that 70 per cent of respondents thought that youth sport in Australia wasn’t safe for gay people and they didn’t get support either. The results came from 9, 500 participants, with about a quarter being heterosexual men and women from English speaking countries. Hopefully it’s a stigma that can change.

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