Jan Cooper, AFL Manager: Female Football Development at Australian Football League, today on radio (882 lunch segment) said research demonstrates women generally lack self belief when it comes to trying something new, and that the new womens football league is about providing opportunities for girls that were not available to her as a child.  Mentoring, inclusion. creating new and accessible pathways for women to ‘have a go” and to have the same opportunities as men is the key. We need to also champion the facilitators of change, the men, women and juniors embracing equality in sport.

Those sentiments underpin the development of cycling opportunities for women and juniors in WA. As a member of the Cycling Australia Womens Commission, Mel provides some insight into her passion for women in sport.

I am a girl and I like sport!

When I was a kid, my parents read the West Australian religiously. Actually they still do. When my Dad finished his read, he handed it to me. The first thing I did was turn it over and read the sports pages.

If it was winter it was the footy – the West Coast Eagles had just been born, I loved Chris Mainwaring, Brett Heady and Dean Kemp. If it was summer it was the cricket. I loved Brett Lee. And the West Indies were awesome.

I talked to my Dad about the latest results and what game was coming up next and how we thought Australia might do in the Ashes. I was 11, and when I had to write a story for school about the most famous person I would like to meet I wrote “The day I met Sir Donald Bradman”.

For my 11th birthday present, my Dad let me have the day off school and took me to the 5th day of the Test Match Australia V West Indies to see my idols Greg Ritchie and Michael Holding. I remember that day as I lost my prized Michael Jackson hat in the WACA members section (I had purchased at the Perth Royal Show a few months before). And that the Windies bowled us out by lunch time.

After the sports pages I would turn to the World News section. I guess it says it all about where I ended up and what I did in my future career. Or that nothing much else was worth reading in that particular newspaper.

So what made me think of all of this…just recently out of habit I picked up the newspaper and I turned it over to the sports pages. Flicking backwards twice I found one full page of womens sports news. NEVER! Netball, basketball and football. Reported. In the News. Women playing sport.

When I was a kid, I loved sport. All sport. I wanted to play cricket, footy, basketball, netball baseball, softball, indoor cricket, squash.  I recognise part of it was that it was how I connected with my Dad. I followed him around. I made him kick, throw, pitch, catch, run with me. He coached my teams and drove me and my friends to my sports. On the way home we dissected and talked about the game.

I wanted to play footy but I couldn’t. I wanted to race BMX bikes but I couldn’t. It wasn’t an option for girls. So I did it on my own with the kids in my street or at lunch time on the school oval. Quite often I was the only girl. It also gave me an escape also from the “girls groups” at school. I had great pleasure bowling the boys out or hitting a four.

As I got older and into my teens (14-15yrs) I played softball (it was the next best thing to cricket and was acceptable for girls). I got selected for WA teams and went over east several times and played in WA. My parents were proud. My Dad was proud. He knew the game inside out. My mum was the team scorer. I played hockey and volleyball at school and was captain of the softball team.

But then I became aware of the perception that if you were a girl and played sport, then maybe you wouldn’t be as attractive to boys. 

But I really like being a girl. I love having my hair done. I love wearing dresses. I love wearing different kinds of clothes every day? I like having my nails done, and still do. For the most part, I love shopping and buying new clothes. I like all the girly stuff.

So why cannot I like sport?

In the end it was too hard. I gave up sport for a bit at around 16. I had a boyfriend and a Kylie Minogue hair style and did drama.  I graduated from high school top of the school in History, Human Biology and English. I went to University and studied international politics, history and anthropology.

At university I discovered group fitness (aerobics back then). We competed in aerobics, leg warmers, leotards and all. I discovered triathlon. I competed in triathlon. I also discovered student politics. I competed in student politics. I joined the Australian Labour Party. I played politics in a very male and union dominated environment. I competed hard.

I love challenges. I am a girl and I love sport. I love competition because it pushes me and challenges me. But I like girly things too.

I am proud that today the local news media is reporting on women in sport, and that people must be reading it. I am proud that girls are embracing sport and that opportunities are available to them that were not when I was a girl.

My Dad still loves cricket and so do I. Not the 20/20 kind but real cricket, Test cricket is the only cricket. My Dad is now umpiring local grade cricket and has started to tell me all about the game and whether so and so would declare and who scored a tonne that day.

Lets increase participation in cycling at all levels. Participation, recreation, competition. Create opportunities and create positive experiences and reasons why girls and women want to play sport and why they want to cycle. Embrace the challenges, navigate the disappointments and discover your potential.

I am a girl, and I like sport.

Melissa Robinson

Pic Credit Tony Lendrum Photography