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Letter outlines importance of women's sport

04 February 2016

Federal Minister for Sport Sussan Ley and Australian Sports Commission Chair John Wylie AM have written the letter below urging for continued progress in the promotion and recognition of women’s sport.

Women's Sport in Australia

The Australian Government through the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) was delighted but not surprised to see the many achievements by Australian women in sport in 2015.  Outstanding performances by the likes of the Diamonds, the Matildas and the Southern Stars made many Australians stand up and take notice of the accomplishments of our leading female athletes, capped off of course by Michelle Payne’s history-making effort in the Melbourne Cup.

Broad community recognition of women’s sport achievement may have been a new thing in 2015, but the record of achievement itself is not new. Names like Meares, Freeman, Beachley, Pearson and Campbell just in recent times rank among the all-time greats in any form of Australian sport, before considering stars of previous generations like Fraser, Cuthbert, Strickland, Court, Goolagong and Gould. 

The ASC and the Australian Government are fiercely committed to the fair recognition and reward of our elite female athletes, and to the promotion of female participation in all levels and forms of Australian sport. Sport and community health in Australia will be demonstrably better if more women and girls are involved as athletes, as administrators, as directors and coaches. Any sport that does not recognise this is doing itself a disservice.

The ASC is not only a strong advocate of women’s sport, it’s a substantial investor as well. 

The Australian Government, through the AIS, directly invests in more than 800 of Australia's best athletes under its dAIS program. More than 50 per cent of recipients are women, and these investment decisions are made strictly on performance merit and potential. We expect to see our women make a significant contribution this year in Rio.

Corporate Support

The ASC has advocated in recent years that women’s sport offers compelling commercial partnership opportunities for corporate Australia. It offers association with success, access to large grassroots participation bases and a relevant connection with customers making up for half our nation’s population. Yet ASC research and evidence tells us that women’s sport still captures less than 10 per cent of all commercial sponsorship. As you are aware, we have written to the Chairs of the ASX top 100 companies highlighting the case for getting behind women’s sport - not as a public service, but out of commercial self-interest.

The response has been encouraging with multiple follow-up meetings and we encourage your sport to work with the ASC to link into these opportunities.

As an extension of this, in November 2015 we were proud to launch an athlete mentoring initiative in partnership with BlueScope that matches talented business executives with elite female athletes to enable ongoing mutual learning and development. At November’s annual ASC Media awards we also announced a new approach to recognising corporates who support women’s sport, which will be formally introduced this year.

Governance Reform

Since releasing the Mandatory Governance Principles in 2013, there has been a much greater degree of focus on ensuring better gender balance on boards. The sector’s efforts should be recognised. Of the ASC’s top 22 funded sports, 16 have increased their female representation, with the remaining already being strong performers. The average level of female representation on these NSO boards has increased by more than 40 per cent, jumping from 27 per cent in 2013 to 39 per cent. As a result, sport outperforms the business sector (the ASX50) by a considerable margin. Australian sport is unquestionably better for this progress.

The ASC also recognises the need to drive such progress in sports administration. The ASC CEO Simon Hollingsworth is part of the Elite Sport Male Champions of Change group. This year the ASC will be implementing a cross-sport mentoring program for female emerging leaders, including women from the ASC itself. This reflects the ASC’s ongoing desire to lead reform by example.

NSO travel policies

As you can see from the above, there has been sector-wide progress which is hugely encouraging. However, the ASC is aware of some sports, notably some sports with very large revenue bases, that have in place travel policies which treat elite male and female athletes differently. In 2016 we can think of no defensible reason why any sport should practice policies that mean male and female athletes travel in different classes to, or stay in different standard accommodation at, world championship events (or equivalent). Sport plays a huge leadership and exemplar role in Australian life and sports should be telling Australians that anyone good enough to don the green and gold to represent our country is valued equally and will be treated equally. 

The ASC is now proposing to make gender neutral travel policies for senior major championships a condition of investment by the ASC in a sport. Please confirm your organisation’s compliance with this policy of equity and respect, or any objections you may have to this approach.  

While there is still more work to be done, the development of gender neutral travel policies is a small but significant step towards more equitable recognition and reward for elite female athletes and the promotion of female participation in Australian sport. Last year was a watershed year for women’s sport in Australia, and it is important that momentum is maintained and expanded in 2016 and beyond.

Thank you for your continued commitment to Australian sport and women’s sport. Please share this letter with your Board. We have similarly written to the ASC’s top 30 funded sports.


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