The throw-in

My experience of the FIFA Women’s World Cup has been one of vindication

From when I first started reading surf magazines as a teenager I have always questioned the way we do sports. I love sport, like really love it. As a kid I was glued to the TV all summer watching the Australian men’s cricket team. My favourite batsman was Mike “Mr Cricket” Hussey - I remember watching his early test career in 2007, sheltering from the midsummer West Australian sun when he made back-to-back centuries in an Ashes series that Australia won 5-0. 

I followed the West Coast Eagles with the kind of tribalism we reserve solely for sport and politics - part of me is forever trapped in 2006 when West Coast won the premiership over the Sydney Swans who they’d lost the grand final to the year previous by four points. In ‘06 the Swans mounted a comeback in the second half and the Eagles clung on for a single-point victory. I still so clearly remember the vision of Dean Cox’s underarm hair popping out across the screen as he raised his arms in elation as the full-time siren sounded. 

In this world of sport, that I have always loved, I couldn’t see a place for me - a girl. As a surfer, I read surf magazines all the time, followed the World Tour closely by way of these print publications and at that time there were never women or girls in these mags. It appeared that this sporting universe belonged to someone else. 

As time went by I began to realise that actually, a women’s world of sport did exist. In fact, it was growing and it was exciting but it didn’t have the same kind of airtime as men’s sport. For years I have opened the back pages of the nation’s biggest newspapers and routinely had to flip through at least six pages before finding a story about women’s sport if it was there at all. 

I frantically began to report on women’s surfing for fear of our collective history being further erased. I started to realise that women’s sport and the incredible stories that underpin it has been systematically relegated and made invisible over generations. 

As time has gone on and I have advocated fiercely for pay equality in sport, the argument I have come up against over and over again is “women’s sport just doesn’t get the viewers so it doesn’t bring in as much revenue so athletes shouldn’t be paid equally.” My rebuttal to this is a) it isn’t true - think Ash Barty in the 2022 Australian Open final drawing in millions more viewers than the men’s final, which was a record-breaking match of Rafael Nadal coming back from two sets down to win the most Grand Slams ever won (at the time) and b) the only reason women’s sport doesn’t get the same viewership is because no one has been covering it. How can we measure the viewership of men’s and women’s sport against each other when one gets so much hype the entire nation knows exactly which aches and pains AFL icon Buddy Franklin has had in his legs for the last decade, while the other is lucky to have even a match result published in the Sydney Morning Herald?

Until now. As I stand in a crowd of 80 000 people watching the Matildas, the crowd is tense, eruptive and ready to explode as Russo and Catley take the field. When I open the newspaper, there are details of the exact status of Sam Kerr’s leg. My social media is nothing but updates from the incredible stories of the women who have overcome all number of hurdles to stand in the middle of Australia’s biggest sold-out stadiums, victorious. I want to stand and scream at every person in the crowd as they erupt - “I told you so”. I told you that women’s sport is worth every moment of your attention, it’s worth 10 pages of the newspaper, it’s worth the sports bulletin on TV, it’s worth all of the sponsorship and the investment and support and recognition. If you hype it, if you share those stories, people will show up in the thousands, tune in in the millions and join female athletes on their profound journeys. 

Women’s sport is worth every cent and the FIFA World Cup is the proof.