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Has AFLW started a powerhouse movement for women in sport?

Women laced up their boots, donned their whites and pinned on their bibs in record numbers in 2017, in what proved to be a watershed year for women in Australian sport.

In late November, the AFL announced its participation figures for the playing year, showing that women and girls made up 30% of all players. Cricket is also delivering strong female player figures with around one quarter of players boasting two X chromosomes.

There’s no question the AFL Women’s League was a crowd-generating, social media and broadcasting success, which is a brilliant achievement that shines a light on the fact that women have long been kicking goals in sport. But to what degree is this early success indicative of long-term enthusiasm?

Women on the global sporting stage

The high-profile success of AFLW and the rise of other professional women’s sport leagues have helped drive overall visibility for women in sport according to sports management specialist, Deakin University’s Professor Pamm Phillips. Underpinning this commercial success is the investment from sponsors, broadcasters and advertisers who have started to realise that investing in women’s sport pays off.

Such public recognition, however, is just starting to nudge the glass ceiling for women in sport, with the Matildas, the Southern Stars and Australia’s female netball and basketball codes having long been punching above their weight at both a global and local level.

‘Women’s sport deserves to be invested in, and we’re now seeing real pace in this both on and off the field,’ Prof. Phillips says.

‘The increasing professionalisation of women’s netball, basketball, and cricket is a direct result of the work each of these sports have been doing for many years to push the boundaries, recently gaining broadcast rights of record proportions for women’s sport in this country – which has demonstrated that women’s sport can be commercially successful.’

‘Women’s sport is rising in both visibility and popularity and this is going to continue to have a positive impact across all sports for women, particularly with investments across the industry.’

The Victorian Government has signalled its support of women in sport by establishing the Office for Women in Sport. Through this office, it is supporting facility and infrastructure development for women, programs and opportunities to increase participation, as well as support for women to take leading roles in the sport industry.

‘This underpinning investment in the sport industry, with a particular focus on women, will help ensure the industry and women’s sport movement is sustainable.’

'Women's sport is rising in both visibility and popularity and this is going to continue to have a positive impact across all sports for women, particularly with investments across the industry.'

Professor Pamm Phillips,
Deakin University

The ‘golden era’ for women in sport

Organisations with greater female representation are more successful than those headed solely by men.

‘Shaking up male-dominated industries makes for long-term change. Deakin provides programs of study in sport that put women in a very strong position to play transformational roles in all facets of the sport industry in the years to come,’ Prof. Phillips says.

‘Women are increasingly being supported and encouraged to take more senior leadership roles in sporting organisations. There is a wave of change in the sport business, led by groups such as Male Champions of Change. Studying at Deakin helps women to gain the necessary knowledge and skills to secure leadership roles and deliver change throughout all levels of the sport industry.’

The good news for Deakin students

Deakin is a proud sponsor of women’s netball in Australia, the Deakin Melbourne Boomers, the VFL Women’s Geelong Cats (which entered the AFLW in 2019), the Cadel Evans Women’s ride, and is a presenting partner of JSF GRoWS.

Deakin has established an elite sporting precinct and as Prof. Phillips says: ‘Our support for female sporting students goes far beyond sponsorships. We proactively give female athletes university-wide support that delivers the balance and structure they need to both compete, and study successfully. Deakin is also taking the lead in supporting elite athletes while they study through the Elite Athlete program.

‘At Deakin, we also conduct research and develop knowledge about all facets of the sport industry including performance and participation of athletes, as well as performance of sport organisations and how they conduct their business,’ Prof. Phillips says.

‘We have the Centre for Sport Research, the award-winning WISE (Women in Sport & Exercise) team who conduct cutting-edge research that is published internationally, and also translated for use in meaningful teaching activities that underpin our award-winning programs of study in sport.’

‘At Deakin, you can create a career that will allow you to immerse yourself in the sport industry to not only contribute to it, but become a leading voice in the conversations and actions that shape the business of sport, and the role of women within it.’

Considering studying or playing sport at Deakin? Find out more about your options at Deakin here.

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Professor Pamm Phillips
Professor Pamm Phillips

Associate Professor, Faculty of Business and Law, Deakin University

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