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What Women Have To Tackle For A Career In Sport

The inaugural State of Origin showdown shows us just how far we’ve come but how far we’ve got to go.

Friday night produced another watershed moment in women’s sport in Australia. And boy, or girl rather, have we been treated to a few in the last couple of years.

It was an historic night at North Sydney Oval, where the best rugby players from Queensland and NSW went head-to-head in the very first women’s State of Origin.

Almost 7000 spectators paid to watch history in the making and an audience of more than 689,000 tuned in to the live broadcast, with a peak of 1.01 million viewers, as NSW prevailed 16-10.

NSW captain Maddie Studdon led her team to victory and proudly raised the shield on the dais -- freshly unemployed.

Maddie Studdon during the 2017 Auckland Nines match between the Kiwi Ferns and the Australian Jillaroos at Eden Park in Auckland. Image: Getty.

Women’s rugby league, like most levels of pro-sport in this country, isn’t a full-time job but a semi-professional one, so Studdon, like many of her peers, juggles playing with training and work or study.

A shift worker at the wharves in Port Botany, the 23-year-old last week received an ultimatum from her boss: choose your job or rugby league.

“I was always going to pick rugby league, especially that Origin jersey," Studdon said.

"I couldn't get the commitment off them and I was putting in my 100 percent as well. This is my job (captain of NSW) and if that's how it's going to be I'm so proud and happy with how it turned out."

NSW coach Ben Cross said Studdon’s situation highlighted the commitment of many sportswomen across codes.

"You've got to get the time off work to do it and she couldn't get the time off work," Cross said.

"That's the sacrifices these women are making to wear the Origin jersey --they're losing jobs over it."

Unfortunately, Studdon’s circumstance is, for the most part, the norm not an exception to the rule when it comes to being an elite sportswoman.

The inaugural State of Origin showdown shows us just how far we’ve come but how far we’ve got to go.

In 2014, Basketball Australia’s parental policy, or lack thereof, came under scrutiny when Olympian Abby Bishop took custody of her newborn niece Zala.

Abby Bishop playing for the Seattle Storm during a WNBA basketball game at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. Image: Getty.

To continue representing her country, Bishop would have to pay for Zala’s flights, accommodation and a nanny, and would not be allowed to sit with her on those flights or have her stay in the same hotel as the team.

At the time, Basketball Australia high performance manager Chuck Harmison said, “A child is allowed to attend games or camps, but we want to keep sanctity of a high-performance environment and make sure kids don’t disrupt training, games or team accommodation.”

Fast forward three years and with an amended policy and new coach, Bishop, and Zala, were welcomed back into the national program with open arms last year.

An athlete I personally know was drafted into the AFLW competition after a successful domestic basketball career.

In her mid-30s, she works in insurance and exhausts her annual leave during the football season, taking days off to travel and play for her football side. For her and her peers it’s common to take a Friday of annual leave to travel with their team interstate, play, be on the road all weekend then arrive at work on Monday physically and mentally exhausted.

The Aussie Rules league will enter its third season in 2019 with just a handful of its marquee players full-time professional athletes.

Angelica Gogos of the Bulldogs celebrates with the cup during the 2018 AFLW Grand Final match between the Western Bulldogs and the Brisbane Lions at IKON Park in Melbourne. Image: Getty.

I spoke to a veteran women’s footballer who played in the opening two seasons of AFLW, about the make-up of her footy team. While there was a handful of exciting young players combining their blossoming careers with uni, the majority of the squad were juggling elite football with work life.

There were a few teachers, a construction worker, landscaper, a chef, a warehouse employee who would get home from footy training after 10pm and be up at 3am the next morning for work, a supermarket shelf stacker and a nurse who was often on call. She’d hand her phone to the team welfare manager during training in case she was called in to the hospital.

So, Maddie’s tale rang true for athletes and women’s sport advocates around the country who applauded the stand she took. She is now set to land a role with the NRL, not only a promotion from the wharves but a more understanding employer which will allow her to perfect the juggle.

It’s important to note this current climate isn’t a blame-game or the fault of sporting organisations or workplaces but purely a timely reminder about the stresses and expectations on elite athletes as we all strive towards a new frontier in women’s professional sport.

Bring it on.