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Australian women’s rugby sevens team shows how far sportswomen have come

The end of the tunnel may be looming for women’s sport. Just over 20 years ago, women had to fight tooth and nail just to get onto the rugby field. A few rugby clubs put their hand up and backed women in. Today that commitment to equality has reached the penultimate achievement. The Australian women’s rugby sevens team, The Pearls, stand in testament to just how far women’s sport has come in the past two decades.

When I first entered the NSW Parliament, women were banned, by legislation, from boxing. It took just under a year but the legislation was changed. On Saturday, Shelley Watts, who hails from the town of Laurieton in NSW, will walk into the ring for her chance to pursue the Olympic dream. Australian women\'s rugby sevens team shows how far sportswomen have come

Around Australia we see the barriers beginning to tumble. It started with Cricket Australia, which decided early to back women’s sport, not just with platitudes, but with funds. The Matildas stood their ground just to get a living wage and won. The NRL has got on board with both the women’s state of origin, won by NSW for the first time in 18 years, and across the ditch a Test match given prominence in the NRL calendar; and, finally, the AFL has put its money behind a long overdue national women’s competition.

Whatever the reason behind these decisions, at their heart must be the long, hard fight women have put forward for equality on the sports field. As we see with the Olympics it is paying big rewards for non-traditional sports.

With an oversupply of venue capacity in stadiums around the world, women’s sport stands as plum pickings for the events market, if governments only chose to back it in. Anyone who has attended a game of the NSW Swifts could not help but be amazed at the number of young women streaming into Sydney Olympic Park. The thrilling final between the Swifts and Queensland Firebirds was a sellout, as is expected to be the traditional match-up between Australia and New Zealand, The Constellation Cup.

The Big Bash Women’s Cricket has been a boon for women’s sport and sets the standard for what you can achieve if you put your faith in women’s sport, as Cricket Australia has. Netball, the stalwart of women’s sport, has also followed the success of cricket and the Big Bash series, with the Netball Fast 5 World Series to be held in Melbourne later this year.

The big test for the NSW government is the question mark over whether it will put its faith in women’s sporting events. The Women’s Football Asian Cup is up for grabs and, given the success of the Men’s Football Asian Cup in NSW, it would seem a natural fit. The FIFA Women’s World Cup is also an event that the NSW government should give a commitment to early. With the success of our Pearls, it would also be hard to argue that an IRB Women’s Seven tournament in Sydney would not attract a crowd.

We have come a long way on women’s sport, and our Olympic sportswomen have always punched above their weight, but now is the time to invest to allow women the same opportunity as men.
While the government is announcing investments of $1.6 billion as part of its stadiums strategy, which includes $40 million for rugby league development centres, women’s sport seems to have missed out. If you want to grow the events market, and create equity on the sporting field, the emerging women’s sporting events market may be a better place to start. […]

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