Rise up and succeed! Women In Sport Summit

Some of Australia’s brightest sports stars, movers and shakers gathered at USC for the Women in Sport Summit, presented by the Ministry of Sport and Sunshine Coast Council last Friday.

Hosted by NRL Commissioner Kate Jones, the Summit celebrated the achievements so far for women in sport, as well as facilitating important discussions about what needs to happen now to secure a brighter and sustainable future for our athletes, communities and sports.

My heart was full as I looked around the room whilst addressing the audience on the opening panel; this highly esteemed and influential group of people are changing the game for women and girls everywhere. They show us each and every day what it is to rise up, challenge the status quo, and succeed spectacularly. 

I spoke about the energy that would be generated by a 2032 Olympic Games and what that would mean for not only our next-gen of athletes, but all industries. Being an Olympic City changes the vibe, the stature of a city and its people. Hard to describe right now, but we will all feel it soon enough.

I also encouraged the athletes in the room to be ready, ready to take their “moment” when it presents. We, as OLYmpians get a shot once every four (and in this case, five years). There is no room for hesitation and questioning... JUST GO FOR IT!
(And, in fact, that’s something I would advise for anyone reading this!)

If you have been reading my blogs you may have caught a recent one highlighting the Australian Sports Foundation report that shines a spotlight on the fact that most of our elite athletes (Olympic and Paralympic) are living below the breadline. To hear her real and raw account of the struggles over the last 2 years from Rowie (Rowena) Webster, captain of the Aussie Stingers water polo team who is about to compete in Tokyo, ‘to make a living as an elite athlete (outside the big codes) is a near-impossible slog’, with Rowie and many other athletes pretty much having to ‘shut down their life’ to represent Australia.

But we’re beginning to see a shift. Recent stats show that women’s team sports are gaining attention and fans in droves. The success of the QueenslandHER State of Origin team last week is just one example of our female athletes rising up and coming away victorious.

And while COO of Queensland Rugby League Rohan Sawyer admitted the organisation was a little late to the party when it came to a female-centred strategy, he said that they are now forging ahead with full steam.

This leads to another point: how do we create and leverage bigger opportunities to bring in the revenue that men’s sports do? Ultimately, this is what is going to get our sportswomen paid in a way that’s proportionate to the work they put in, and their impact on our communities.

And, of course, the exciting possibility of a 2032 Games was another hot topic. It was fantastic to hear such enthusiasm by my fellow panellist, Queensland Deputy Director-General Kerry Peterson. Kerry spoke about the legacies a 2032 Games would leave on Queensland, well before that famous flame reaches our shores. This will be an opportunity to build a stronger, healthier, unified community and economy. 

This vision is something shared by Dr Bridie Kean, 2 x Paralympian medallist in wheelchair basketball, who, since gaining her PhD in Health Promotion, is on a mission to boost community health through inclusive sport. Bridie’s research has informed para-sport practices, both high performance and within communities.

And finally, I have to mention another athlete who is blazing a trail right now - BMX rider Saya Sakakibara. It’s a year of firsts for Saya: she is about to become an OLYmpian in Tokyo, and was also a natural in her first public speaking event at the Summit – Saya was amazing to listen to. The 21 year old World Champion is absolutely smashing it, and I know there’ll be plenty of kids wanting to follow in her tyre tracks when they see her compete in Tokyo! She was gracious enough to listen to my 10 year old BMX story whilst smiling and nodding!

There is still a long way to go for women in sport, but the wheels are in motion and momentum is building fast. We can’t take our eye off the ball or our foot off the accelerator; we must continue to open up these conversations and address the tough topics. But with amazing people like these in the driver’s seat, be sure to buckle up as it’s going to be a great ride.

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