Mary’s Wonder Women: Sport presses for progress

This article was first written for and published by The Roar.

Yesterday was International Women’s Day, which is always an opportunity to reflect on how far we have come on our journey towards gender equality, but also a reminder of how much work we still have to do.

When it comes to sport, we have had plenty of moments to celebrate in the last 12 months.

Here’s what has changed in the sports landscape since the last time we celebrated International Women’s Day.

I got to watch the women’s Ashes
When the women’s Ashes were contested in Australia last year, the series looked radically different from previous iterations.

It was the first time that tickets had been sold to women’s international matches in Australia and the country responded, with almost 30,000 people attending in Brisbane, Coffs Harbour, Sydney and Canberra to watch the team retain the urn.

You can’t be what you can’t see. So for the first time, in person, young girls could see their favourite players from the Australian women’s team compete for the Ashes in person.

There were also a couple of firsts during that series, including Ellyse Perry’s unbeaten 213 at North Sydney Oval in the first women’s day-night Test. This was also Ellyse’s first international century.

Other firsts and records during the series included Megan Schutt taking 18 wickets (across all three formats), eclipsing the previous record for wickets taken across the multi-format series, and Beth Mooney hitting the first century in women’s T20 cricket in Australia, with 19 fours and a six in her 117 at Manuka Oval.

Ellyse Perry celebrates a century

AAP Image/Daniel Munoz

NRL announces women’s competition
If you had asked me this time last year when I thought the NRL would announce its women’s competition, I would have told you to expect it in 2019 or 2020.

This was consistent with the messaging I had heard from Australian Jillaroos coach Brad Donald and members of the national squad.

So you can imagine my pure joy when, just a few days after the Aussies won the men’s and women’s World Cup, Todd Greenberg announced a competition would launch in 2018.

There were a number of other developments, including the announcement that the Interstate Challenge would be replaced with a stand-alone State of Origin match and that there would be 40 contracted Jillaroos.

When current Australian captain reflects on how she felt on the day of the announcement, the first word that springs to mind is ‘relief’. Because we finally got there.

Ruan Sims of the Jillaroos (left) palms off a tackle by Maitua Feterika of the Kiwi Ferns

Ruan Sims of the Jillaroos (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

Rugby makes big changes
I’ve seen more change at Rugby Australia in the last couple of months than in years.

Often accused of being a stale ‘boys club’, new life was breathed into the organisation when Raelene Castle was announced as CEO, becoming the first woman to head up a major sporting code in Australia.

Raelene has now joined other women of influence in rugby including Pip Marlow, Josephine Sukkar, Elizabeth Broderick AO and Ann Sherry AO.

Raelene’s already been fortunate enough to see some success in her new role, with the Australian men’s and women’s sevens teams both winning the World Series in Sydney.

Not to be outdone by rugby league, we also saw rugby announce its own women’s competition last year too – a six-week competition which was launched this week to coincide with celebrations for International Women’s Day.

To all the women competing in the Super W this weekend all the very best
Across the round, 150 women will participate in five-state competition, all working towards being crowned champions in the inaugural season and fighting for selection in the Wallaroos squad.

Players to keep an eye out for include Grace Hamilton and Ash Hewson (New South Wales), Kirby Sefo and Sarah Riordan (Queensland), Trilleen Pomare and Rebecca Clough (Western Force), Louise Burrows and Charlene Grubb (Brumbies), and Jayne Kareroa and Ashley Masters (Rebels).

I wish all these women the best of luck and look forward to trying to juggle watching the NRL, AFLW and Super W throughout the weekend.

What changes will we be celebrating come International Women’s Day in 2019?

With any luck, a woman will be making her debut as an on-field referee in the NRL (I’m looking at you Kasey Badger and Belinda Sleeman), the women competing in the Super W will be paid, the NRL women’s competition will expand, and there will be stand-alone WBBL finals.