Chauvinistic sport tradition under fire

Olympic champion Sally Pearson has applauded World Athletics bosses for vowing to end one of the most chauvinistic practices in sport as part of a series of groundbreaking pledges to create greater gender equity.

It's a custom that almost every sport in the world has been guilty of allowing to fester for years - always ending their major championship with a men's final while the equivalent women's event serves as the entree to the main meal.

It's been happening in front of everyone's eyes for generations - at the Olympic Games, world championships, tennis grand slams, and all the way down to junior sport - but now one of the biggest sports in the world is calling it out for what it is.

At the next edition of the Athletics world championships, taking place in Oregon in mid 2022, the final gold medal event will be the women's 4x400 metres relay, subject to approval by the World Athletics Council, but consider it done.

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To casual sports fans, that may not seem like a giant stride forward, but for everyone involved in elite women's sport, it's a game changer that will send a powerful message to other sporting bodies and television executives.

"It is those finer details that I guess some people overlook and don't think of as important but when a young girl is growing up in this generation, when gender equality is very important, she's going to be asking questions like 'why do the men always go first or why are they always the last event to finish off a championship. Are they more special than us?" Pearson told News Corp.

"We certainly didn't ask those questions when I was growing because it didn't cross our minds but now that it's been put to the forefront, we need to look at those finer details and make sure that women's events and performances are celebrated as equally as the men's performances."

Breaking with outdated traditions is just part of a series of major initiatives that World Athletics has committed to changing.

Coinciding with International Women's Day, track and field's global body has also made a promise to empower women in leadership positions as well as promoting female athletes and tackling the scourge of online abuse.

An Australian sporting idol, hardly anyone has represented their country better than Pearson, a role model athlete who won Olympic, world and Commonwealth Games medals in hurdling.

But in a startling omission, she revealed that even at the height of her greatest successes, she never allowed herself to look at social media because she knew there would still be haters out there.

"There's just people out there who don't want to see anyone do well, the sort of keyboard warriors determined to bring everyone down," said Pearson, who has retired from the sport but still works as a mentor to up and coming athletes, while juggling motherhood, after having a daughter last year.

"I'm a strong person but I never liked looking at my social media because I was too scared just in case there were negative comments or messages.

"And that's not OK because female athletes should be able to freely look at social media and feel confident in what they have to say without having those fears."

In addition to creating anti-harassment policies to limit hate speech, bullying, sexism, racism and other misconduct, World Athletics has made an additional guarantee to better promote women's athletics.

For the next week, the World Athletics digital platforms will feature the colours of the suffragettes and provide more content about - and produced - by females through its #WeGrowAthletics campaign.

Furthermore, World Athletics President Sebastian Coe said that under new governance reforms, the sport's leadership council would have 50 per cent female representation by 2027.

"Gender equality should no longer be a theoretical discussion in any organisation," Coe said.

"We should all be taking action by identifying barriers, reviewing our policies and practices and creating clear pathways for women to rise, contribute and participate at all levels."

WHY IT'S NEVER BEEN A BETTER TIME FOR WOMEN'S SPORT

Liz Walsh

Former Australian cricket captain Belinda Clark was in the packed stands at the MCG a year ago - on International Women's Day, 2020 - watching as the Australian Women's Cricket team triumphed convincingly over India in the T20 World Cup Final.

It was a memorable night for Clark, and not just because another trophy was added to the team's cabinet, but because it was won in front of a record crowd of 86,174 people; the most spectators to ever attend a women's sporting event in Australia.

 

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But Clark - who remains the Australia's highest-scoring one-day international women's player with 4844 runs made over 118 ODIs in the green and gold from 1991 until 2005 - didn't feel jealous watching the team triumph that night.

Instead, she felt only pride.

Belinda Clark is one of the greats of Australian cricket.
Belinda Clark is one of the greats of Australian cricket.

 

"I just think it's wonderful that we've got young girls - and young boys - who are growing up today knowing that women play sport, that they play it on the television and that they are good," Clark, 50, says.

"From just a cricket perspective, as a fan and that's what I consider myself as these days, I am just getting so much more opportunity to watch our players and the depth of the coverage and the female voices on the commentary and the people in the crowd, the whole thing is just worlds apart from previous eras … it's really indicative of where we've come from and where we're at now."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Opals captain Lauren Jackson kisses her gold medal at the 2006 World Championships.
Opals captain Lauren Jackson kisses her gold medal at the 2006 World Championships.

 

JACKSON: WHY I'M HELPING SPORT'S FUTURE STARS

 

Lauren Jackson will always love basketball.

The eight-time WNBA All-Star may not play professionally anymore - the closest she gets to the bucket now is watching her four-year-old son Harry give the sport his best preschool shot - but the sport will forever mean the world to her.

At her peak, Jackson was arguably the world's best female basketballer and to this day is Australia's greatest ever player, and she is now using that influence as the newly appointed head of women's basketball at Basketball Australia.

"Being a sports administrator is very different to being an athlete but I am so passionate about basketball and so for me to be able to give back is something I really treasure and this role is everything to me," she says.

"Being an athlete made me a stronger, better person in life after sport.

"The struggles, the things you go through emotionally (on court), help you evolve into a human being over that time and in my circumstance because I was so good from such a young age, I didn't really find myself until 2010, which was when I decided I needed to actually stop being ignorant about the world outside and how I could make it better and what I could do to create change.

"I want to make things better for our athletes."

 

 

 

 

 

Originally published as Chauvinistic sport tradition under fire



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