12 September 2018, Sydney, Australia
It was my holy day.
A day of ritual.
A day of sport.
Four hours before designated kick-off my brother Chris would clomp around the house in his polished footy boots, ball under his arm.
I’d be dressed in my green-and-gold tracksuit with my netball skirt over the top.
I had a shiny tracksuit for every day of the week.
And my parents wonder why I never married.
I slept with a copy of Joyce Brown’s Netball the Australian Way under my pillow, hoping it would stimulate dreams of netball greatness that would rub off on me.
All my hopes and aspirations were linked to the netball court - for one hour every Saturday, that rectangle was my place of worship.
Every game was part of the grand plan. Part of what I thought was my destiny to represent the real green and gold.
“You’re gonna play for Australia, Angie”, my brother would say.
If I had to describe the look I’d say “Karate Kid in a pleated skirt”.
I was nine and I was invincible.
Many years later under the sandstone arches of the University of Adelaide, I discovered my other religion - feminism.
My eyes were opened to the power imbalance between women and men, and the ongoing fight for equal rights, opportunities and respect.
I found my voice and started using it for things that really mattered: Reclaim The Night marches through the streets of Adelaide, speaking out against violence; energetically arguing against sexism, double standards and inequality.
It didn’t feel all that radical back then; it just felt right.
How could women not want equality, equal pay and opportunities, control over their own bodies, better work conditions, better access to childcare, a world without rape and sexual harassment, and the right to feel safe inside and outside of their homes?
By the time I left uni, I felt empowered.
I wasn’t going to put up with sexism and double standards.
I would call out inequality and misogyny at every opportunity, and make the world a better place.
Then I landed in sport.
Where you can experience sexism, double standards, inequality and misogyny all before lunchtime.
It was 1997 - and some sports weren’t even aware of the existence of women.
As I say in my book - Breaking The Mould, Taking a Hammer to Sexism and Sport - if sport were a cake, the filling would be chest hair.
I knew I was entering a male-dominated profession.
In the sporting “Game of Thrones” men hold sovereign power; they make the rules and call the shots.
Over the years, my love of sport has been severely tested, and on more than one occasion I’ve felt like walking away.
But I never did.
And I’m glad I stuck around because things are changing.
I’ve spent 20 years of my life observing the Australian sporting landscape as a sports journalist, presenter and now documentary-maker.
That’s 20 years of seeing women athletes undervalued, underpaid and ignored.
20 years of watching girls drop out of sport because there isn’t a pathway.
20 years of invisible female role models.
20 years of news editors telling me that no one cares about women’s sport.
20 years of watching men with mediocre talent get all the good jobs. That’s personal.
20 years of not always feeling like I belong.
But the Australian sporting landscape is changing.
The past three years have changed the conversation about women and sport.
No longer is the word ‘equality’ an afterthought.
Equality has become central to the whole discussion.
Where it belongs.
Until now, it’s always been about the business case for change – the men in charge of sport have argued the business case for including women - when it should be the starting point.
In my book, I argue the moral case for equality and diversity is more compelling than the business case.
Girls deserve the same opportunities and pathways as boys in sport. That should be our starting point.
So after 20 years, I can finally say the future is bright.
Clearer pathways are opening up for girls in sport - in a range of sports.
Female sporting role models are more visible.
Cricket, netball and the footy codes are creating a more competitive landscape for women and pushing all sports to do more for girls and women - facilities, pay, conditions, sponsorship, respect and recognition.
It’s no longer good enough to say “we want to be the sport of choice for girls and women” and do nothing - these sports actually have to do something.
And if they don’t understand this is now a matter of equality they’re going to be left behind.
The train has well and truly left the station.
I will briefly mention AFL Women’s here.
I don’t think I’ve ever been brief about AFLW but I will try - it’s my favourite topic.
AFLW is the most important thing to happen in sport in my lifetime.
Australian football is our indigenous game, our national game. It’s in our blood.
For a hundred years, writers, playwrights, filmmakers, poets and artists have depicted men in football – the embattled coaches, presidents, CEO’s, committeemen and the under-performing gun recruit – much-loved storylines that have shaped our sporting and cultural identity.
Alan Hopgood, David Williamson, Bruce Dawe, Martin Flanagan – men telling stories about men.
Women have been excluded on and off the field, despite having a deep love for the game.
A lot of us grew up kicking the footy in the street, the backyard and the local park - in my own little world boys existed for the sole purpose of kick to kick.
(I sometimes think I should have stuck to that general rule).
The path to the AFLW has been a long one. Its players are, in many ways, modern day suffragists - brave women who stared down convention and won.
Debbie Lee, Peta Searle, Lisa Hardeman and others, who fought for respect and a national competition long before it was fashionable to do so, were mocked, ridiculed and abused for fighting for equal rights.
It’s because of these brave women we now have an elite national competition – (you know that thing that men have had for ages?).
The AFLW Movement (and it is a movement) is changing society.
It sends the message to women and girls that it’s ok to play this game. It’s ok to be physical.
It says don’t get drawn into the feminine stereotype that’s been constructed for you - you can create your own version of what it means to be feminine, what it means to be a girl.
Sport is changing for the better.
We’re finally looking at both men and women and celebrating their differences.
Women’s sport is physically different to men’s but that doesn’t make it any less strategic or passionate – in fact, you could argue relying less on brute force puts more of an emphasis on tactics and strategy making it more of a spectacle.
We’re seeing less sexploitation of women athletes. This practice still goes on but it’s not as common as it was back in the old Matildas nude calendar days.
And casual sexism is being called out and this is really important because we know there’s a link between casual sexism, which demeans women, and the sorts of attitudes that give rise to violence against women.
But please don't think for a moment we’ve made it.
Despite the advances there’s still a way to go.
Women athletes are still striving for equal pay, they still don’t have access to the same opportunities and resources as their male counterparts. A sportswoman’s worth is still based on her attractiveness or sex appeal, sexist ‘jokes’ and ‘throwaway lines’ are still part of the landscape and women continue to be underrepresented in positions of power, including the media.
So how can the new sporting landscape help end violence against women?
Firstly, sport is our national obsession.
Sport is accessible - it reaches boys, men, girls and women.
And sport is at its best when it’s connected to something much bigger.
This is why it can drive positive change in attitudes and behaviours.
There is a huge body of respected research to show that gender inequality drives violence against women. That disrespect towards women and rigid gender stereotypes are key drivers of this unacceptable violence.
Sport is starting to understand the link between sexism and violence against women, and its using its power and influence to change the story.
Prevention work is about far more than simply raising awareness and putting one woman in the board room or on a sports panel show.
It’s about changing culture, changing the rules by which we play, and changing the environments we operate in.
It’s about working hard to ensure a level playing field is a reality for players, staff members, volunteers, fans and anyone connected to the clubs.
It’s about extending the principles of equality and fairness beyond the field into the boardroom, the coach’s box, the stands, the change rooms, and the media.
It’s about sporting organisations setting the standard of zero tolerance for sexism, discrimination and violence against women.
For sports leaders and role models, it’s about stamping out sexism and inequality – setting the tone, and the example, for others to follow.
It’s about creating inclusive, equitable, healthy and safe environments for men and women, boys and girls.
I can’t tell you how excited I was when I heard AFLW players speak out against the crappy idea of a 6-week regular season next year. As someone who watches cultural change in sport closely this was a significant shift. The players have found their voice, just as the mighty Matildas did in 2015 when they demanded better pay and respect.
Or how excited I was when Richmond superstar Jack Riewoldt sat on stage at the season launch and spoke about re-defining masculinity. We would never have heard that 20, 10, 5 or even two years ago.
Or how excited I was when jockey Michelle Payne told the doubters to get stuffed.
This is cultural change.
Women in sport can’t just sit back and wait for things to happen organically… because we know how that plays out for women.
Organic is good when it comes to fruit and vegetables… but when it comes to social change, organic doesn’t cut it.
We need action.
We need intervention.
We need acts of courage.
We need leadership.
It’s not the job of sport alone to end violence against women.
But sport provides a platform to promote women’s participation and opportunities, challenge gender stereotypes and roles and encourage respectful and equal relationships.
It has to be a team effort, and if we all work together, sport can help change the story that ends in violence against women.
Rest assured, I will keep going.
I’m feeling invincible again.
To purchase Ang’s book, ‘Breaking the Mould’.