So many of my favourite sporting memories have been playing or watching club, community, local sport. There is something quite pure and passionate about it that you can’t find or replicate at the elite level.
There is no doubt that the average sports fan would give their right arm to experience and be involved at the highest level or in touch with the greatest players of their favourite sport. I can’t lie, the experiences I’ve had meeting some of the best in the business has had me bragging for hours, OK days.
However, the other day while hosting the University Blues Supporters-Women in Football Lunch I got reconnected with my love of club sport and it reinforced to me that no matter what heights you reach it all begins with grassroots and I’m hoping people never lose sight of that.
Uni Blues are one of Melbourne’s oldest teams having stemmed from Melbourne Universities original teams in the 1850s. The Melbourne University Women’s Football Club – The Muggars – history isn’t nearly as long but they will certainly play a large part in the history of the new AFL Women’s League starting in 2017.
The conversations had on the stage and in the room afterwards, about the momentum being experienced in women’s sport had me leaving with a definite spring in my step. It helps when you have attendees that included;
· Gill McLachlan – AFL CEO and former Uni Blues player.
· Laura Kane – Melbourne University Women’s Football Club President and Nth Melbourne Football Club Head of Women’s High Performance.
· Meg Hutchins – Darebin FC player and Collingwood FC Head of Women’s High Performance
· Stephanie Beltrame – Cricket Australia’s GM of Media Rights and driver of the WBBL getting on free to air TV.
· Bec Maddern – The Footy Show Host and Geelong FC clubs #1 ticket holder
· Emma Kearney – Dual athlete playing in the WBBL and will draft high in the 2017 AFL women’s league
· Anthony Stevens – North Melbourne FC Legend Hall of Famer
Stories ranged from Laura Kane’s role from being a practicing lawyer to being poached by North Melbourne Football Club to lead their AFL licensing bid to Bec Maddern’s journey of support and unreserved encouragement for taking on one of Melbourne’s most profiled TV sports show – The Footy Show. Smiles all round. Until…
A very relaxed conversation with a middle aged man who I’m not sure said the most ridiculous comment I’ve ever heard or said a comment that is a perfect example of the unconscious bias towards women playing contact sport. To be completely honest I don’t think its even unconscious!
“I don’t have an issue with women playing sport… But..”
Now, when there is a ‘but’ at the end of a sentence I typically brace myself and tell myself to ‘switch on’ Jones! “I’m not racist, but”, “I’m not a coffee snob, but..”
So, “I have nothing against women playing sport, but, I don’t think they should play contact sport like football and rugby in case they damage their reproductive organs.” Let me give you some thinking and processing time for this one…
I had mentioned to the room that day that I had thought the opposition to girls and women playing football in the main had been less about them being physiologically unsuited to playing and more about people’s discomfort with the display of female masculinity and aggression. So quickly I’m trying to grapple with – was this the case here? Or was he really thinking they could damage their well protected organs and heaven forbid not be able to carry out their sole purpose in the world, to have kids.
I was naturally very eloquent in my reply including phrases like “surely men’s external stuff are in more danger?” Classy I know. When I realised no matter what I said, using correct medical terms or not, I was not going to sway his ways and I decided that heading out to support the Blues was a better option.
This unfortunately reinforced to me that no matter how much momentum, positivity and change there has been, we still have a long way to go to change people’s perception and get the right messages out there about all things women in sport.
So, as well as providing some good laughs afterwards, it has prompted further discussions including an upcoming topic of women playing impact sports on our podcast The Butterfly Effect so stay tuned.
And fair to say that the clanger aside, the day once again reconnected me with local sport, the people who make it great and a sense of comfort that clubs are doing all they can do to keep people connected, involved and valued. Well played Uni Blues.