Women's sport in Australia

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Women's sport in Australia started in the colonial era. Sport made its way into the school curriculum for girls by the 1890s. World War II had little impact on women's sport in the country. After the war, women's sport diversified as a result of new immigrants to the country. In the 1990s, the percentage of media coverage for women's sport on radio, television and in newspapers was not at parity with male sport. Basketball is nominally professional in Australia but players do not earn enough from the sport to compete full-time. Some Australians have gone overseas to play professional sport. Women make up a large number of television spectators for Australian sport. In person, netball has large percentage of female spectators. The Australian Federal and State governments have encouraged women to participate in all areas of sport.


In the colonial era, popular women's sports that were encouraged were often ones that did not challenge traditional gender definitions and allowed for men and women to compete fairly against one another.[1][2] By the 1880s, a number of sports had been integrated into physical education courses for girls at schools in Victoria. The sports chosen and the methods of teaching them to girls borrowed from a British sporting and educational tradition.[3] At the same time, a number of women's sporting contest were taking place in Australia including the first bicycling race in the world for women held in Ashfield, New South Wales,[4] and the first Australian championship in golf, open to both genders, was the Australian Ladies' Championship played at Geelong in Victoria in 1894.[4]

There were changes in the social acceptability of women's sport in Australia taking place by the 1900s and some sports like fencing began to become more open to female participation.[5]

During the 1900s, there also began the creation of women's only sport clubs, including the Victorian Ladies' Bowling Association, which was established in 1907 as the first women's bowls association in the country.[6] Women's only sport organisations continued to be formed for the next thirty years. The bowls association was followed up by the creation of the Australian Women's Hockey Association in 1910.[6] A decade later, the Australian Women's Rowing Council on 13 May 1920 at the Telegraph Chambers Brisbane, Queensland.[6] In 1931, the Australian Women's Cricket Council (AWCC) was formed in March 1931.[6] In 1932, the Australian Women's Amateur Union was formed to manage women's track and field.[6]

Coming out of the second World War, women's sport in the country was in a better place than sport in other countries. Many of the sport organisations for women remained intact during the war period and held competitions. Women did not have to deal with issues like food rationing, petrol rationing, population disbursement, and other issues facing women in post-war Europe. Sport had continued on largely undisturbed.[7] At the end of World War II, Australia saw an increase in immigrants coming to the country, with many coming from places that had not previously sent immigrants to the country before. The influx of newcomers helped to introduce and led to participation in sports that had previously not enjoyed much popularity in Australia.[8][9]

By the 1970s, amalgamation between male and female only sport clubs began to take place. In 1977, Australian Athletic Union was formed. This was a merger of the men's and women's athletics associations.[10] This would continue into the 2000s, with Golf Australia forming in 2006 after the Australian Golf Union (AGU) and Women's Golf Australia (WGA) agreed to merge.[11]

In 2005, The Australian Womensport & Recreation Association Inc (AWRA) was incorporated in July.[12]


  • 1934 – First cricket test match played at Brisbane Cricket Ground between Australia and England.[6]
  • 1985 – Dawn Fraser as the first female inductee in the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.[13]
  • 2010 – 5th IWG World Conference on Women and Sport was held in Sydney between 20–23 May.[14]


Australian Bureau of Statistics 2011–12 survey found that nearly 64% (around 5.8 million) of females aged 15 years and over reported that they had participated in sport and physical recreation at least once during the 12 months prior to interview.[15] The top ten sport and recreation activities were: Walking for exercise (2,784,700), fitness/gymnasium (1,745,700), swimming/diving (729,200), jogging/running (585,400), cycling/bmx (490,600), netball (410,500), tennis (314,200), yoga (298, 900), dancing/ballet (229, 100) and bushwalking (216,800).[15] These statistics do not cover children. The survey found that an estimated 734,700 females were involved in either a non-playing capacity only or in both a playing and non-playing capacity: 273,000 in coaching, 264,300 in scoring or timekeeping, 256,500 in administration, 115,100 in umpiring or refereeing and 60,000 in medical support.[15]


Australian Bureau of Statistics survey Spectator Attendance at Sporting Events, 2009–10 reported the following findings regarding female attendance at sporting events. Survey found that an estimated 3.3 million females attended one or more sporting events as spectators. This represented 37% of females aged 15 years and over in Australia and 54% of females aged 15–17 years. The top ten sports in attendance were: Australian rules football (1,171,100), horse racing (925,000), rugby league (594,700), motor sports (456,800), football (354,800), rugby union (209,300), cricket (190,500), harness racing (190,200), tennis (171,300) and netball (123,000).[15]

For women's only sporting events, netball has the highest attendance. In 2013, netball's ANZ Championship had an 18 per cent increase on both 2011 and 2010 seasons with over 134,000 attending the first nine rounds of the season.[16]

Media coverage[edit]

The lack of media coverage of women's sport in Australia has presented challenges to female participants in several areas, including providing few role models and making it hard to acquire money from sponsors.[17] In 1996, across the mediums of newspaper, radio and television, the worst coverage as a percentage of total sport coverage for women was on radio with only 1.4% of the coverage being for women's sport. Newspaper coverage was the best at 10.7%, with television coming in second with 2% of all sport coverage being exclusively for women's sport.[17] The newspaper coverage was significantly better than four years earlier, where the total coverage of women's sport was 4.5%.[17] Newspaper coverage had issues: Most of the women's sport coverage came on days when there was little news regarding men's sport.[18]

In 2010 a report by University of New South Wales Journalism and Media Research Centre and Media Monitors found that coverage of women in sport made up only 9% of all sports coverage in Australian television news. But coverage on male sport occupied 81% of television news reporting. There was 10% of coverage being non-gender specific.[19]

Professional sport[edit]

There are significantly fewer women than men earning an income from sport in Australia. Traditionally professional female golfers, tennis players and surfers have been able to earn an income from international circuits. There are a limited number of high-profile female Olympic athletes that have been able to supplement government grants and competition earnings with sponsorships. The lack of sponsorship for female athletes was highlighted when Sally Pearson, 100 metres hurdles gold medalist from the 2012 London Olympics, had lost sponsors after the Games.[20]

In recent years,[when?] athletes from team sports such as basketball and to a lesser extent football and netball have been able to derive some income from sport. In 2009, the salaries for average players in the Women's National Basketball League were not high enough to allow them to play basketball full-time: They made between $5,000 and $10,000 a year.[21] Australian athletes have gone overseas to play professional sport. Amongst these are Lauren Jackson, Erin Phillips, Kristi Harrower, Belinda Snell and Penny Taylor, who played basketball in the United States.[22]

In recent years, netball players have been able to earn an income particularly since the establishment of the ANZ Championship. However, in 2013 Australian Diamonds players argued for their current average salary of $10,000 a year to be boosted to $20,000.[23] During the dispute, the CEO of Netball Australia, Kate Palmer, stated that seven of the current Diamonds earned more than $100,000 from netball and related activities, with four earning more than $150,000.[23] After the 2016 netball season, Netball Australia pulled out of the ANZ Championship[24] in favour of setting up its own national league, which launched the next season as Suncorp Super Netball. In the first season of the new league, the minimum player wage was set at over $27,000, more than double the minimum in the final season of the ANZ Championship.[25] The minimum player wage will rise to $30,000 for the 2019 season.[26]

There have been issues involving the national soccer team, the Matildas and their pay. On a national level, the pay disparity between men and women has caused issues. The Matildas earn just $500 an international game, while the male national team, the Socceroos earn more than $6500 per game.[27] The men’s team made more money in one game at the World Cup than the women would have if they made it to the final. Comparing the two teams success, the Matildas are currently ranked 5th in the world, while the men sit at 50.[28] This tension eventually boiled over, as the Matildas boycotted an international tour of the USA in 2015 in protest against the lack of financial reward they were receiving. This tour was very significant, as it was only a few months after the success at the World Cup. They were also coming up against the current world champions, so it was a big chance to demonstrate the continued rise of women’s soccer in Australia. However, following unsuccessful negotiations with the FFA they decided to protest and boycott the tour. The dispute centred on a number of objectives some of which are interrelated, and can be broken down as follows:[29]

(i) provision of basic minimum standards setting out the time commitment and requirements necessary for high performance standards in international football;

(ii) Pay equality and equality of opportunity;

(iii) Establishing a career pathway for elite women footballers and making football the sport of choice for young women.

The PFA want an immediate correction to Matildas salaries so they are at least on par with the Australian minimum wage of about $33,000 a year and for them to be able to take up opportunities overseas when not playing and training for the national squad.

Amateur sport[edit]


In 1912, Fanny Durack and Mina Wylie became the first female athletes to represent Australia at the Summer Olympics. At the 1912 Stockholm Olympics, Durack won the gold medal and Wylie the silver medal in the Women's 100m Freestyle.[4]

In 1952, Nancy Burley and Gweneth Moloney became Australia's first female Winter Olympians. They competed at figure skating at 1952 Winter Olympics in Oslo, Norway.[30]

In 1991, Helen Brownlee became the first woman elected to the Australian Olympic Committee's Executive Board.[30]

In 1988, at the Seoul Olympics, the Australian women's hockey team Hockeyroos, became the first Australian women's team sport to win an Olympic gold medal.[30] The Hockeyroos went on to win the gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta and 2000 Sydney Games.[31]

In 2002, Alisa Camplin competing at the 2012 Winter Olympics Salt Lake City became Australia's first female Winter Olympics gold medalist.[32]


In 1960, Daphne Hilton was the only Australian female on the Australian Team at the 1960 Paralympic Games, the first Summer Games.[33]
In 2006, Emily Jansen, a below-knee amputee alpine skier, became Australia's first female Winter Paralympian.[34]


In 1984, the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 was passed. This Act made it unlawful to discriminate against a person for their sex, marital status or if they were pregnant. All sporting clubs were forced to give the option to women if they wanted to become members in any sport they played or participated in.[4]

Australian government's have encouraged women's participation in sport. In 1985, Australian Government's working group on women in sport published a report titled Women, Sport and the Media which recommended the creation of the Women's Sport unit within the Australian Sports Commission (ASC).[4] This Unit was established in 1988.[4] In 1992, an Active Girls campaign was launched by the ASC in an attempt to reduce the drop out of teenage girls from sport.[35] In 2002, the ASC with $180,000 of funding from the Office of the Status of Women established a grants program to improve the leadership skills of women who deliver sport in rural and remote communities.[36] In the financial year 2013–2014, Sport Leadership Grants and Scholarships for Women Program provided $400,000 for individuals and organisations to undertake training to improve their leadership potential in the areas of: coaching, officiating, governance, management and administration and communications, media and marketing.[37]

In 2006, the Australian Parliament's Senate Environment, Recreation, Communications and the Arts Committee published the report About time! : women in sport and recreation in Australia.[38] This extensive review made recommendations related to grass roots and elite athlete participation, leadership and governance and the mass media. The Committee recognised the benefits to women and girls of participating in sport and recreation but noted the high drop out rates in female participation. It also found that the some areas of the Australian media neglected reporting women's sporting achievements. The Australian Government responded to the report in 2012.[39]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Howell, Max; Howell, Reet; Brown, David W. (1989). The Sporting Image: A Pictorial History of Queenslanders at Play. Brisbane: University of Queensland Press. p. 89. ISBN 0-7022-2206-2. 
  2. ^ Stell, Marion K. (1991). Half the Race, A history of Australian women in sport. North Ryde, Australia: Harper Collins. p. 242. ISBN 0-207-16971-3. 
  3. ^ Stell, Marion K. (1991). Half the Race, A history of Australian women in sport. North Ryde, Australia: Harper Collins. p. 31. ISBN 0-207-16971-3. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f "A history of women and sport in Australia". Australian Sports Commission website. Retrieved 30 July 2013. 
  5. ^ Howell, Max; Howell, Reet; Brown, David W. (1989). The Sporting Image: A Pictorial History of Queenslanders at Play. Brisbane: University of Queensland Press. p. 85. ISBN 0-7022-2206-2. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f Pollard, Jack (1968). Ampol's sporting record. North Sydney: Jack Pollard. ISBN 0909950229. 
  7. ^ Stell, Marion K. (1991). Half the Race, A history of Australian women in sport. North Ryde, Australia: Harper Collins. p. 100. ISBN 0-207-16971-3. 
  8. ^ Cliff, Paul, ed. (1999). A sporting nation, Celebrating Australia's sporting life. Canberra, Australia: National Library of Australia. p. 24. ISBN 0-642-10704-1. 
  9. ^ Booth, Douglas; Tatz, Colin. One-eyed, a view of Australian sport. St Leonards, New South Wales: Allen & Ulwin. pp. 140–142. ISBN 1-86508-055-1. 
  10. ^ "History of Organisation". Athletics Australia website. Retrieved 30 July 2013. 
  11. ^ "History of Women's Golf Australia" (PDF). Golf Australia website. Retrieved 30 July 2013. 
  12. ^ "History". Australian Womensport & Recreation Association website. Retrieved 30 July 2013. 
  13. ^ "About Us". Sport Australia Hall of Fame website. Retrieved 30 July 2013. 
  14. ^ "5th IWG World Conference on Women and Sport". Australian Womensport and Recreation Association Inc wEBSITE. Retrieved 30 July 2013. 
  15. ^ a b c d "Women in Sport : the State of Play 2013". Australian Bureau of Statistics – Perspectives on Sport, June 2013. 18 June 2013. Retrieved 30 July 2013. 
  16. ^ "Crowd numbers on the rise for the ANZ Championship". Netball Australia News. 13 June 2013. Retrieved 30 July 2013. 
  17. ^ a b c NSW Sport and Recreation (1998). "Media Coverage of Women in Sport" (PDF). Sydney, New South Wales, Australia: NSW Sport and Recreation. p. 1. Retrieved 12 January 2012. 
  18. ^ NSW Sport and Recreation (1998). "Media Coverage of Women in Sport" (PDF). Sydney, New South Wales, Australia: NSW Sport and Recreation. p. 2. Retrieved 12 January 2012. 
  19. ^ "Towards a Level Playing Field:sport and gender in Australian media January 2008 – July 2009" (PDF). Australian Sports Commission. 2010. Retrieved 30 July 2013. 
  20. ^ Emma Greenwood (26 February 2013). "Sally Pearson losing sponsors despite gold medal winning efforts". Gold Coast Bulletin. Retrieved 30 July 2013. 
  21. ^ Basketball Australia (2009). "Making Your Career in Basketball, A guide to the Australian Basketball Pathway (with up to date information on scholarships to both Australian and US Universities)" (PDF). Australia. p. 9. Retrieved 12 January 2012. 
  22. ^ Basketball Australia (2009). "Making Your Career in Basketball, A guide to the Australian Basketball Pathway (with up to date information on scholarships to both Australian and US Universities)" (PDF). Australia. p. 1. Retrieved 12 January 2012. 
  23. ^ a b "Diamonds 'up for a fight' in pay dispute". The Age. 5 April 2013. Retrieved 30 July 2013. 
  24. ^ Mitchell, Brittany (25 August 2016). "Why Netball Australia had to separate from New Zealand to secure dominant future". ESPN.com. Retrieved 25 March 2018. 
  25. ^ Lulham, Amanda (24 September 2016). "Netball payday: How it will work for players and clubs". The Daily Telegraph. Sydney. Retrieved 25 March 2018. 
  26. ^ "Suncorp Super Netball Player Payment Rise In 2019" (Press release). Suncorp Super Netball. 20 June 2018. Retrieved 27 July 2018. 
  27. ^ https://sites.duke.edu/wcwp/tournament-guides/world-cup-2015-guide/womens-professional-leagues-in-notable-countries/australia-by-davis/
  28. ^ https://www.fifa.com/fifa-world-ranking/ranking-table/women/
  29. ^ https://www.theguardian.com/football/2015/sep/11/matildas-player-strike-what-are-the-key-pay-demands-and-disputes-ahead
  30. ^ a b c Gordon, Harry (1994). Australia at the Olympic Games. Brisbane: University of Queensand Press. ISBN 0702226270. 
  31. ^ "Hockeyroos Crowned Australian Women's 'Team of the Century'". Hockey Australia News. 26 February 2013. Retrieved 31 July 2013. 
  32. ^ "Alisa Camplin". Australian Olympic Committee website. Retrieved 30 July 2013. 
  33. ^ "First Australian Paralympic medals go on display". Australian Paralympic Committee News. 25 March 2013. Archived from the original on February 20, 2014. Retrieved 31 July 2013. 
  34. ^ "Emily Jansen – Australia's first winter woman". Melbourne Water Media Release 9 March 2006. Retrieved 30 July 2013. 
  35. ^ Cliff, Paul, ed. (1999). A sporting nation, Celebrating Australia's sporting life. Canberra, Australia: National Library of Australia. p. 122. ISBN 0-642-10704-1. 
  36. ^ "Annual Report 2002-—2003". Australian Sports Commission. Retrieved 30 July 2013. 
  37. ^ "Participating in Sport – Women – Grants and Scholarships". Australian Sports Commission website. 2013. Retrieved 31 July 2013. 
  38. ^ "About time!Women in sport and recreation in Australia" (PDF). Parliament of Australia website. September 2006. Retrieved 31 July 2013. 
  39. ^ "Australian Government response to the Senate Environment, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts References Committee report: About Time! Women in Sport and Recreation in Australia" (PDF). Dept. of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport website. October 2012. Retrieved 31 July 2013. 

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