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Women in Sport

The Hon. J.A. DARLEY (15:48): In a very timely matter of interest, I rise today to speak about women in sport, their accomplishments and the respect they deserve. Of course, over the weekend, Adelaide's AFLW team did our state proud by winning their second Premiership in the three-year history of the women's league. I extend my congratulations to the Crows women's team for their tremendous effort throughout this season, and for their accomplishment in winning the Grand Final in front of a record crowd of 53,034 people. It was truly a ground-breaking day for sport.

Notwithstanding this incredible achievement, women's sport and women in sport continue to attract criticism. In recent weeks, AFLW Carlton athlete Tayla Harris was captured in a picture mid flight while she was kicking a goal in a match against the Western Bulldogs. The photo is extraordinary and displays Tayla's incredible athleticism, strength and technique.

Unsurprisingly, 7AFL displayed this remarkable photo on their social media platforms. However, within just hours of posting the image, Tayla was aggressively targeted and endured sickening abuse. I have seen some of the comments that were published, and am absolutely disgusted. The comments are vile and derogatory, and in my 82 years on this earth I have never come across such abhorrent and despicable language.

Similar pictures of men have been published for decades, and they have never attracted similar comments. People merely see the picture as a man kicking a ball, yet when the subject is female people feel entitled to make completely irrelevant comments. Criticism should be about the game or an athletes' skill, they should not be misogynistic and sexualising someone doing their job.

Tayla has expressed her discomfort at these comments and described it as sexual abuse, and I agree with her. I condemn the cowards who hide behind their keyboards and say these contemptible things. Instead of deleting the vile comments or taking action against the online abusers, 7AFL deleted the photo. Although 7AFL has now conceded that this was the wrong move to remove the photo, it sent the wrong message to athletes, their young fans and the community in general.

Unfortunately, this response is symptomatic of general attitudes towards women and to what is acceptable behaviour. We are often too quick to react, often against the victim rather than looking at the behaviour and the actions of the perpetrators. Although we have come a long way in the last decade with women in sport, they are still widely discriminated against in all levels of competition. This includes unequal pay, under-representation in leadership positions, inequitable access to resources and facilities and under-representation in the media and in sponsorship deals.

As demonstrated by Tayla Harris, women in sport also face harassment and a lack of respect for their sporting achievements. Young girls need to see that there is a clear and fair career pathway for them to work as full-time professional athletes. Currently, nearly all elite women athletes juggle competitions and training with full or part-time work or study, sport-related travel, family commitments and sponsorship requirements, if they are lucky enough to be sponsored.

For example, Crows' player, Dr Jessica Foley, had to work a 14-hour shift after playing in a preliminary final. In June last year, the AFL signed off on a 20 per cent salary increase, which increased the men's average salary from $309,000 to $371,000 per year. In comparison, the average female salary is about $10,000, with the top female AFL players earning $24,600. Wage disparity between sexes is not uncommon in all fields. However, the chasm is particularly evident in professional sports.

I can already hear the cries of naysayers, who will argue that the AFLW season is shorter, and therefore is not comparable. However, fans and players are advocating for a longer women's season, which would enable athletes to work professionally in their sport without having to supplement their income with external work. Extending the season and allowing these players to earn a full-time wage will demonstrate that they are valued as players.

It would also increase the credibility of the AFLW, which will generate more interest, talent development and participation in sport. Most importantly, it would send an important message to young girls and change the culture surrounding women in sport. I acknowledge that we have come a long way, but there is still a fair distance to go. I would like to think it will be done in my lifetime, but I am not hopeful. I would love to be shown to be wrong. In the meantime, I want to thank the current women who are experiencing the struggles to participate in their sports and are inspiring future stars to follow in their footsteps.

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©2017 BY JOHN DARLEY.