This story was first written and published for The Roar.
When our major sports talk about establishing women’s competitions, one of the key words is sustainability.
It’s important that we aim to develop competitions that are exciting, marketable and that feature exceptional talent, but the core obligation must be to ensure our competitions are sustainable. There is no point in a sport deciding to introduce a women’s competition if there is not enough talent to go around or if there isn’t enough talent to make sure that the competition is sustainable in the long-term.
There were two codes I wanted to congratulate this week for tournaments held to encourage female participation in their various sports.
Let’s start with the NRL.
Yesterday, the biggest schoolgirl’s rugby league competition in the history of the game took place at Macquarie University.
Over 500 girls flocked to Sydney’s north-west to participate in the inaugural Female State Finals Day and plenty of locations in New South Wales were represented. There were teams from Sydney’s metro and regional areas and some came from as far as Tweed Heads and Bourke to participate. The 32 teams featured across many age groups with girls from years 5/6, years 7/8 participating as well as women from the under 16s and Opens age brackets.
This tournament came to life due to a combined effort by the NRL and NSWRL. The categories are a mixture from the NSWRL’s All Schools Carnival and the NRL Legends Shield. By combining these categories, yesterday represented the largest gathering of female rugby league talent that this country has ever seen.
On several occasions, NRL CEO Todd Greenberg has said how important it is for the women’s game to be sustainable. To put it in perspective, we are still yet to see a woman represent Australia who has played rugby league from under 6s to opens level. The young women that featured in today’s tournament will go a long way to making sure this happens and soon.
Interestingly, sustainability and quality of competition is also something on the radar of the current Australian Jillaroos squad. When Brad Donald took over as Jillaroos coach last year, he had a meeting with the playing squad and asked them about their goals. Apart from winning a Rugby League World Cup, the squad also wanted to act as role models and encourage the next generation of women to give rugby league a go. They also wanted to make it clear that there are opportunities for women to play rugby league – no matter where they live in Australia.
The women’s game is the fastest growing part of the rugby league family and the NRL is on track to register a 31 per cent increase in participation this year alone.
And with tournaments like this, alongside the NRL’s National School Strategy which means that every time there is a male rugby league offering in schools there will also be a female offering and the two major state wide competitions for women – the Karyn Murphy competition in Queensland and the Legends Shield in New South Wales which goes from under 11s to opens, I expect this participation figure to continue to grow.
Now onto rugby.
I may have been critical of the ARU over the last couple of weeks, particularly in relation to their XV women’s strategy, but I’m really pleased to see an ongoing commitment to the 7s format of the game.
Today, the inaugural AON Women’s University Sevens Series begins. The first leg of the tournament will be played at the University of Tasmania Stadium, Launceston.
In an interesting move, it’s been decided that the Australian Women’s Sevens squad will be split up, with two members of the squad playing in each of the eight teams. This means that not only is talent evenly distributed, but it also gives our squad the opportunity to teach the next generation of players and act as mentors to them.
It will also make transition from the old to the new much easier when that happens.
To give you a flavour of how talent will be distributed – Alicia Quirk and Hannah Southwell will play for the University of New England, Dominique Du Toit and Chloe Dalton will play for Macquarie University, Ellia Green, Georgie Friedrichs and Shanice Parker will play for the University of Tasmania, Emma Tonegato, Evania Pelite and Mahalia Murphy will play for The University of Adelaide, Sharni Williams and Brooke Anderson will play for the University of Canberra, Shannon Parry and Demi Hayes will play for Griffith University, Charlotte Caslick and Brooke Walker will play for Bond University and Emilee Cherry and Emma Sykes will play for the University of Queensland.
The tournament will conclude in September and there will be five rounds held.
With a Commonwealth Games approaching next year and the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games looming, initiatives like this will make sure that when it comes time to select teams, Australia will have an impressive talent pool.
If you are keen to tune in, the tournament will be streamed at rugby.com.au and if you are based in Sydney, join me on Saturday 9th and Sunday 10th September at Macquarie University to see the New South Wales leg of the competition.
I look forward to watching participation in both these sports continue to grow because of tournaments like this.