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Minister for Sport Anika Wells addresses Women In Sport Congress

07 March 2024

The Minister for Sport, The Hon Anika Wells MP addressed the Women In Sport Congress (WISC) at the Doltone House in Sydney, and spoke passionately about her priorities for women and girls in sport.

Minister for Sport Anika Wells, MP, speaks during WISC in Sydney.

Good morning.

I too want to extend my respect to the traditional owners of the land, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation.

Together, we stand on the shoulders of 1600 generations of First Nations people and that is our shared history.

Thank you to the AIS for hosting the Women in Sport Congress.

Thank you to the 300 people attending this event chasing a better sector, a better sporting environment for women.

I am eternally grateful to everyone in this room for your contributions to women in sport.

The high performance staff, the academics and researchers presenting here at this Congress are brilliant, as is their work…

I’m going to go a bit broader though and leave the science to you.

I hope you leave this event with a sense that if you can pave a better way then we can give all women and girls the optimal performance and health conditions they deserve.

Conditions long overdue.

As the Federal Minister for Sport, I am constantly asking myself one question – well actually many questions… I don’t really sleep… but there is one question I repeat in my head that is very relevant today…

Will my time as Federal Minister for Sport help create a system that allows women to thrive on and off field?

Make no mistake: gender equality is a genuine priority for this Government.

I hope you have seen this through initiatives like our $200m Play Our Way fund, the largest ever fund for women and girls sporting facilities.

One of several female focused sporting programs we have delivered and this is just the start as all of us drive systemic change in the industry.

And when I think about driving systemic change, I think about Cathy Freeman at the Olympic Stadium… I think about our greatest Olympian Emma McKeon gliding through the water… and I think about last year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Look… I actually just like thinking about the World Cup… in general… no excuse needed… just pondering Mary Fowler’s foot work through traffic…  replaying Cortnee Vine’s right boot from the spot… good times.

But I digress… many of the tournament highlights came outside the packed stadiums…

Such as the Gender Equity Summit for the Football Team founded by Natalie Portman – Angel City FC.

Like many of us, Natalie… I call her Natalie as if we’re actually mates, was outraged by the imbalance between men’s and women’s professional football standards and salaries.

But Natalie and co-founders Julie Uhrman and Kara Nortman took action, and built a majority female-owned club, driven by a desire to serve their people.

During an inspiring few hours at the Opera House last August, Natalie and her co-owners shared several lessons that stayed with me.

And in the spirit of one of those lessons – which was to be proactive and share your story – I’ll pass some notes on here.

  1. Don’t ask for permission and don’t take no for an answer.
  2. Raise your hand and step into it… show strength.
  3. The obstacle is just that… an obstacle… which means there is a way around.
  4. Find your tribe, do what you love and the rest will follow.

I think many of us found our tribe through the Diamonds… through the Jillaroos… and through the Tillies.

My twin boys Osh and Dash want to be Mary Fowler and Hayley Raso. Osh and Dash have even asked what boy Matildas are called.

Now… that is incredible right but here’s something else incredible… at our current rate… we will achieve gender equity in the year 2308.

Yep… a recent United Nations report revealed at the rate of progress right now… the world will take up to 286 years to close gaps in legal protection and remove discriminatory laws and 140 years for women to be represented equally in positions of power and leadership in the workplace.

Australia is thankfully better than most. Sport is thankfully improving.

However, our sporting systems are not equal.

Do not mistake the Diamonds World Cup triumph, the Matildas World Cup performances…as a sign everything is hunky dory.

Trust me… as a woman forced to confront male privilege in sport every day… it is not fixed.

And… there’s significant data to back up my anecdotal evidence…

I, the Australian Sport Commission and Sport Integrity Australia… are increasingly concerned about the targeting of women and girls…for online abuse, child safety, competition manipulation and anti-doping.

Between January 2022 to April 2023, almost 65% of complaints SIA received that progressed to investigation were allegations of prohibited conduct against women or girls.

So two thirds of all complaints related to incidents where a woman or girl was subjected to misconduct.

During the period January 2022 to April 2023, child safeguarding concerns accounted for 80% of complaints investigated by Sport Integrity Australia.

Of that 80 per cent, more than 70% of complaints raised concerns over men coaches and young girl athletes. ​

More broadly, and in the online world… women athletes received three times as many negative comments as men (27% compared to 9%) and over a quarter of all comments regarding sportswomen were negative, sexist, sexualised, or belittled women's sports.  ​

So while the Matildas are now the most popular sporting team in Australia… and yes… that’s including male teams… and no… I’m not going to qualify it with an “arguably”.

I mean… 12 sell outs in a row… they are our number one national team.

But I digress… while the Matildas popularity is awe inspiring and on field recognition across multiple codes is surging… there is a disconnect to the executive level… a schism from on field to off.

In 2023, 22% of CEOs, across 65 National Sporting Organisations were women.

In 2023, 25% of Board Chairs across 65 National Sporting Organisations were women.

These figures are lower in 2024 given the recent departure of high-profile CEOs and Board members in the past two months.

In-fact, in the past 12 months… eight women CEOs have left their roles.

In the past 12 months, 11 male CEO’s left their roles.

Eight women, 11 men… despite just 22 per cent of NSO CEOs being women.

We must and we will give more support. We must and we will be better at this.

Earlier this year, I announced a $36 million dollar package to help tackle abuse, bullying, discrimination and sexual misconduct through a variety of measures including the Empowering Women and Girls in Sport program.

We need more women making decisions for more women. We need more Sarah Cook’s from Rowing, Sarah Walsh’s from Football, more Jen Watt’s from AFL…

We need more girls to enter, stay and thrive in sport and become volunteers, elite athletes, administrators, executives and coaches.

Just this morning I was at the official Olympic uniform unveiling near the Opera House… some of our best medal hopes wearing their first team kit….

And come Paris it’s expected our women will again lead the way in performance, thanks to many of you here right now!

While our Olympic and Paralympic teams will be close to gender parity…you will not see equality in the coaching ranks anywhere near the Arc De Triomphe.

Less than 10% of the top sports are led by women head coaches.

The AIS has established a Women in High Performance Coaching project to fix the leaky talent pipeline – and you will hear more about that on Saturday.

We need to diversify our coaching pool not just for fairness and equality but for success.

If we are going to make progress beyond that 10% and all the other statistics that paint a bleak picture...we must do things differently.

We need a platform to kick things off. A platform like Australian Sports’ first Gender Equity Policy.

The National Gender Equity in Sports Governance Policy brings new voices into sports boardrooms in every state and territory.

We will have more to say on this announcement next month. It is part of the bigger picture being delivered by the Albanese Government.

A picture that will illustrate our commitment to changing the game. To raising our hand and being strong.

Together, let’s forge a more inclusive Australia for all women and girls.

Let’s stop asking for permission… stop taking no for an answer…

Start realising the obstacle is just that… an obstacle.

We need to find our tribe and do what we love because the rest will follow.

Thank you.

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