The decade that saw the rise of women's sport

The Matildas saw in a landmark pay deal to close out a huge decade. Elsa/Getty Images

How different the world looks in 10 years. Australia has seen in six Prime Ministers, Instagram has taken over the world, same sex marriage was legalised and women's sport has gone from not seen or heard, to big money television deals, front and back page stories and hundreds of thousands of young girls dreaming of becoming the next big Australian female athlete.

While some of the most upfront changes in women's teams sports have come about in the last five years -- WBBL, Super Netball, Super W, AFLW and NRLW -- the ground work for these new competitions, the increase in pay and exposure, began as early as 10 years ago.


A decade ago our best netballers, cricketers and footballers were considered 'semi-professional' athletes. They earned just a few thousand dollars a year, and many paid for their own travel, training camps and were forced to seek part time, or even fulltime, employment in order to earn minimum wage. Ten years later, these same athletes are earning a living wage, have signed contracts that offer job security and have secured land mark maternity leave.

Netball Australia and Cricket Australia have both created two leading professional sporting leagues for their codes, Super Netball and WBBL respectively. These Australian athletes are training in the best environments, are receiving the best nutrition and sports medicine and are leading the way for professional women's sport in the country. Following their lead, AFL, NRL and rugby produced their own national women's sporting competitions -- AFLW, NRLW and Super W.

When it comes to earning a professional wage, only months ago our Matildas signed a landmark Collective Bargaining agreement that closes the pay gap between Australia's national football teams. The new deal will see an increased salary for women's footballers from around $66,000 to $100,000. It's a far cry from 2015 when the Matildas chose to boycott a US tour over poor pay. For Australia's cricketers a new pay deal came into effect in 2017 that saw a pay increase of more than 80 per cent and next year CA has committed to topping up any prize money won by Australia at the T20 World Cup to ensure parity with the men's equivalent winnings. The creation of Super Netball in 2017 also saw minimum wage rise with the average player earning around $67,000 a season, while Rugby Australia gave their rugby sevens players full-time contracts setting their minimum wage at $44,500 - equal to their male counterparts.

Alongside these mammoth pay deals has come the landmark maternity leave structures netball, cricket, football and several other codes have put in place to provide athletes a secure future. NA was one of the first codes to implement a leave policy in 2017 that entitles players to 12 months paid maternity leave when on contract and travel support for a child up to 12 months and a carer. AFLW, despite the competition running for just two months, introduced a maternity and pregnancy policy that allows for travel support for an infant and carer up to 12 months, or longer if a child is still breastfeeding, with the current contract to be paid in full during pregnancy.

There are now seven professional women's sports leagues in Australia, five of which have been established in the past five years. The increase has seen participation, talent and skills rise, while viewership numbers across the codes has increased exponentially.


For years women's sports in Australia have fought to be seen. Male sports have dominated airtime and column inches, forcing women's sport to fight for the scraps and winning just the token mention during sports bulletins. By the end of 2019 the increase in televised women's codes has brought Australia's female athletes to the forefront.

While early netball coverage began on free-to-air TV, the decision to take the sport onto Fox Sports in 2013 took the largest female participation sport in Australia away from its followers. In 2017, with the launch of Super Netball, a new deal saw the code return to FTA and with that an increase in exposure and wages for their athletes.

The decision to move back to FTA has paid dividends for NA with total viewership of the 2019 season up two percent on last year with almost six million people reached nationally through broadcast. The grand final broadcast alone saw 900,000 people tune in.

Similarly, CA made a huge deal with Channel 7 and Fox Sports that saw all women's internationals broadcast on FTA as well 23 WBBL matches, while the remainder were broadcast live on Fox Sports. In 2018 Seven recorded the highest ever audience for a women's cricket broadcast in Australia with nearly 400,000 tuning into a WBBL match, while the decision to take WBBL stand alone in 2019 proved an early hit with FTA ratings up 25 percent.

Cricket and netball weren't alone signing landmark broadcast deals. AFLW signed in 2018 to broadcast all their games live, with all finals televised on both FTA and Foxtel, while the W-League and Matildas were broadcast live on FTA and Foxtel. The exposure made the likes of Ellyse Perry, Erin Phillips and Sam Kerr household names.

In 2016, for the first time Australia featured more women in the Olympic team than men with the women winning six of Australia's eight gold medals. While it wasn't the first time the women had punched above their weight, their 2016 success saw their faces plastered across the front and back pages of newspapers. Their success is just one example of the increase of newspaper coverage our women have received.

Most positive though, is the public's thirst for greater coverage of women's sport. A survey conducted by Commonwealth Bank in 2018 revealed a 48 percent increase in interest in women's sport from 2017, with 53 percent of Australians now watching broadcasts or attending live events.

What will the next 10 years bring for women's sport?

There's no doubt we should be reflecting on and celebrating the rise of women's sport throughout the past decade, but it's no time for sporting bodies to rest on these successes, there's still plenty that needs to be done to bring women's sport in line with men.

At the top of the list is no doubt ending pay disparity. Already this year the heads of 17 sporting organisations have come together to come up with a plan to close the wage gap. But there's still more to be done.

There must be an increase in participation rates, greater representation in coaching and management roles, there must be genuine and equitable pathways, investment must increase and practical actions must be taken.

The past 10 years have no doubt become the decade of women's sport and there's still plenty more to come for professional women athletes in Australia.