Why Our Brilliant Aussie Sportswomen Need More Space
Women made history at this year’s Commonwealth Games.
For the first time, an equal number of medals were awarded to men and women. In addition, 2018 marked the first women’s rugby competition, despite the fact that men’s rugby has been included in the Games for 20 years.
These two historic moments, obviously overdue, highlight the recent explosion of female participation in sports that were traditionally the bastion of boys and men.
The development of women’s professional leagues in sports like soccer, AFL, cricket, rugby league and rugby union, is giving women the option of sport as a career. And that development is driving greater interest in sport from girls and boys.
That’s a great thing.
It’s good for equality, but also means more young Australians are accessing the health benefits that come from physical activity.
However, there is one impediment that could stop this growth in its tracks: actual physical space.
In an ABC interview earlier this year, the new head of the AFL Women’s competition Nicole Livingstone said that a lack of availability of sports fields in major cities was having an impact on female participation in sport.
At the same time, population growth, particularly in our cities, means this demand for sporting fields is certain to increase across the board in coming years.
Australia needs to confront this shortage and develop solutions. Fortunately, in some places local councils are putting in the work now to understand the problem by working out the scale of the open-space shortfall.
A recent report by a group of councils in northern Sydney found that at least 120 sporting fields will be needed across Sydney’s northern suburbs over the next two decades.
The City of Sydney has estimated that by 2031 it will need 20 extra sports fields, 18 outdoor multi-purpose courts and 19 indoor multi-purpose courts.
However, at this point in our nation’s history, increasing our open space will be tough. Our need for more space for sport coincides with the need for more housing to accommodate our increasing population.
We need a fresh approach.
This should start with a serious national conversation about how we can create more open space in our communities and, more importantly, how we can make much better use of existing space.
That conversation should be wide-ranging and involve genuine collaboration between all relevant players, including the private sector and, critically, parents.
Whenever we build new housing estates we should ensure they include adequate sporting fields and open space, not just for now, but for the future, as populations increase.
But the real challenge lies in increasing space for sport in existing urban areas.
Across Australia’s cities there has been a strong increase in construction of apartments, which is increasing population density in some areas. Our challenge is to accommodate this greater population density while also creating more open space.
One solution here is incorporating indoor sporting facilities in urban renewal plans. We should also work harder to better utilise existing sporting grounds and improve their facilities.
Many existing sports facilities have only male change rooms. Significant investment is required to ensure that female facilities are provided so as to encourage female participation.
Another way to make better use of existing space is to think harder about the way we design and use parks. We also need to design parks in ways that also allow for maximum human use.
A great example of open space used well is at the Darrell Jackson Gardens in Summer Hill, in my electorate. There, large trees around the edges of the park provide welcome shade. The two playgrounds offer a space for children to play.
Tennis courts are on one side and a round oval enables sport to be played, most commonly cricket.
I don’t have all of the solutions to increasing space for sporting events. But the point is that nobody has all the answers. We will only find them if we collaborate broadly and think outside the square.
Australia is renowned as a great sporting nation. We need to keep it that way.
Anthony Albanese is the Shadow Minister for Cities