Sport has been a huge part of my life. Since I was a little kid, living a stones throw from the local footy ground in regional Geraldton (WA), where my Dad played cricket and footy. Playing netball, softball, basketball and being involved in competitive swimming. Traipsing around the state for surf life saving competitions when I was first married and of course, being an avid Australian rules footy fan throughout.
When I moved to Melbourne nearly 2 decades ago, one of the best ways to meet people and start a conversation was through my love of football. Especially since I was almost the lone West Coast Eagles supporter in Melbourne in those days. It sure started some lively conversations! I became involved in netball when my daughter started playing, and because I was a relatively enthusiastic parent attending training and games, I soon found myself scoring games, then coaching teams, then joining the netball club committee and then becoming Secretary of the club, a role I loved and held for 8 years. Now, I am in my second Football Board Director role at Williamstown Football Club, one of the oldest clubs in Australia.
Sport has a way of cutting through societal barriers and enabling people to connect through a shared love of the game (whatever the game is.) For me, sport and especially my love of footy, was a great way to build relationships in the often male dominated environments that I worked in. Discussing the weekends games, how my team went, the footy tipping comp and predicting the ultimate victor for that season cut through gender, age and hierarchical barriers. I know sport, I love it and can talk for hours about it. I also know that sport is a tool in my toolkit to be able to engage with, build trust and include men in the conversations I need to have about equality.
Pioneering Women in Sport
We now see women and girls participating in sport in unprecedented numbers. Particularly in Australian rules footy, with a 76% rise in overall participation rates in the last 2 years. It would be a difficult point to argue that this explosive growth rate is not linked to the advent of the AFL Women’s competition. “You can’t be what you can’t see” has never been truer.
I attended a history making moment in sport some weeks ago. The Women of Williamstown (as I’ve fondly dubbed them) smashed a 155 year old tradition. Our inaugural women’s side, led by our inaugural female Head Coach, Amy Catterall, played their first game in the VFLW competition. I sat quietly in the rooms as the coach gave her pre-game address to the players. Not only have I NEVER had the opportunity to observe an elite football side be addressed pre-game by their coach, I was also sitting in a room of women who were making history. I was extremely proud, very emotional (I was desperately trying to hold back tears) and simply joyous that women were finally equal in the world of footy.
Fast forward a week, and I was moderating a panel on Mothers Day with some more pioneering women in sport, Bec Goddard, inaugural AFLW premiership coach for Adelaide FC, Carol Fox, President Women Sport Australia & Dr. Bridie O’Donnell, Head, Office for Women in Sport and Recreation. We discussed the inclusion (and non-inclusion) of women in footy, participation rates and of course what its like to be a pioneer in your field. The discussion was part of a lunch that also featured the legendary Susan Alberti, to mark the occasion of our Women of Williamstown playing their first home ground game (yes in 155 years!) STORY
Pride and Proud
The focus on inclusion doesn’t stop there. On May 27, Williamstown FC hosted its inaugural Pride match and Presidents Lunch when the women’s VFLW side played Richmond.
I had the honour again of moderating a panel to talk about the inclusion of the LGBTIQ community in football, joined by Hannah Mouncey, Jason Tuazon-McCheyne and the founders of the Pride Cup, James Lolicato and Jason Ball. We also had Russell Green, father of Angie from Stand Up Events, giving us a keynote. The inclusion of a community I also belong to, the LGBTIQ community, in footy is another step towards an inclusive Australia.
Sport has been a huge part of my life and will always continue to be. I’m really proud of the work that I do to achieve equality and to advance all women. The fact that I can combine my business expertise, passion and commitment to equality with my first love, sport, well, it’s a match made in heaven.
This article was originally published by Advancing Women, and authored by Michelle Redfern
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