Unsurprisingly, I have no clue what relationship my four-week-old daughter will have with sport. I mean, she’ll be forced to have some idea about it – she won’t be able to avoid footy unless she spends her winters in a venue that isn’t our place or those of her grandparents. But who knows whether it will become a lifelong interest as it is for her mother and myself, or a great passion as it is for her 3-year-old brother.
Regardless of this, it’s impossible not to look at her brother – a guy who spent a recent Sunday morning watching some of the Davis Cup and flicking through the pre-season Footy Record before deciding to get off the couch to play some serious hallway cricket – without wondering how the modern sporting world might appear to a girl born in 2015.
For starters, the kid’s been born but months after cuts to the ABC led to the announcement that the channel will no longer broadcast the WNBL or the W-League. As Australian Womensport and Recreation Association executive officer Leanne Evans said, now “You’d struggle to find much at all in terms of women’s sport on television.”
So how might a newborn-come-infant-come-toddler respond to this kind of world? When even though her parents always have sport on the television, women cannot be seen participating either side of netball, Grand Slam tennis tournaments and Olympic fortnights?
Suddenly, one is forced to really consider the moments when one’s daughter might actually see a female on a mainstream sports broadcast. There are occasional female commentators, although with the exception of the NBA they very rarely commentate on anything other than women’s sport. There’s also a goal umpire or two, cycling’s podium girls, and cheerleaders are apparently still a thing. Other than that, there are women in the crowd enjoying the spectacle of men’s athletic achievements and there are some on the ads, of course.
Obviously, this is all common knowledge. And it’s not as if a lack of sports coverage is anywhere near the list of Biggest Problems 21st Century Women Face, as emphasised by the debate surrounding the latest ad for the ANZ Championship. As Traci Holmes said on Offsiders this past weekend, when Sharni Layton appears in the last shot with the remnants of a black eye, it’s supposed to present the sport and the women who play it as fit and tough. But unfortunately, in this day and age many people look at an image of a bruised woman and automatically associate her with the world’s incomprehensible number of victims of domestic violence.
But the contrast between how a girl or a boy might respond to modern sport is still worth asking questions about, right?
Is it harder for girls to find sporting idols, leaving them instead more likely to choose someone from the entertainment sphere to look up to and love as a child?
Are stereotypes surrounding athletic girls – from the traditional “tomboy” to the notion that only butch or gay women play cricket, soccer or footy – still going to exist as the newborn progresses through the 21st Century?
Will we look back at Australia in 2013, when one of the four women’s sports leagues on television was the Legends (formerly ‘Lingerie’) Football League and see it as an anachronism or as a precursor to the future of women’s sport on television?
What is the true impact of men calling for women to wear more revealing uniforms, or of the most marketable female sportspeople being the most attractive ones regardless of their on-field success?
And, ultimately, does any of this actually matter to the health, joy and wellbeing of a young girl, regardless of her level of interest in sport?
Parenthood brings so many uncertainties into one’s life. At least Mrs EPO and I can rest assured that we both know tens of wise, compassionate, honourable, modest, spectacular women who the newborn will be surrounded with throughout her childhood and adolescence. May they help us guide her through the minefield of life, including discussing issues in women’s sport as often as modern life will permit and, sometimes, require.