In the exhilarating world of sports, heroes aren’t always found on the field – they’re orchestrating victories behind the scenes. These strategic masterminds and unsung heroes are a huge part of sport and the reason our favourite players are able to do what they do best.
With the growth in female athletes on our screens and in our hearts, it’s no surprise that women in behind-the-scenes roles are also recently on the rise. Coaching, broadcasting, events, and administrative roles in sports have seen more and more opportunity for women to apply and thrive.
The sporting industry has always been extremely male dominated, with women rarely getting the opportunities the men have. This is especially common for women trying to work behind the scenes of male dominated sports such as NRL, AFL and soccer.
It is extremely difficult to rewrite history, especially if a job field has been historically set up for and catered for men to thrive, with very little area for women to grow and succeed. A 2019 survey carried out by the Sport Integrity Global Alliance showed that only 26.9 per cent of executive positions in international sporting federations were held by women.
While this is an upsetting number for women wanting to break into the field, it is important to remember that the growth of women in sport has happened at such a rapid pace that society is still in the developmental years of inclusion.
The last decade has seen a spike in female involvement that no one could have predicted, and it has been both nationally and internationally recognised. Governments, associations, and teams are now providing programs and opportunities to assist the growth of women in professional sporting careers and give them an equal chance to thrive.
The Australian Government even invested $10.4 million to promote and create leadership and long-term career pathways for women and girls in sport. This investment, that was included in the 2022-23 budget, is a major step and milestone for women in sporting roles as it recognises the need for support for women in these roles and, provides resources and outcomes to assist them to perform at their full ability.
Emily Otto has just been named as the 2023 QAFL Community Coach of the Year through her efforts at Bond University. She coached both the senior women’s team (as backline coach) and their reserves team (as shared head coach) to win their respective premierships for the first time in history this August. She was also the first female coach at the Burleigh Bombers and has since gone on to mentor and develop two more female coaches at the club.
“There has definitely been a rise in the number of opportunities for women in coaching roles across the AFL landscape,” Otto explained.
“There are specific programs such as the ‘She Can Coach Program’ and AFL Coaches Association Scholarship for women, along with AFLW clubs beginning to recruit women coaches as a pathway into coaching professionally.”
2023 has been an incredible year for female athletes and sporting teams, made evident through the success and nationwide excitement for our Matildas soccer team at the Women’s World Cup. What is less spoken about however is the underrepresentation of female coaches at the tournament.
At this year’s tournament, only 12 of the 32 teams were coached by women despite statistics and history showing how successful women-lead teams have been. An article published by Women’s Agenda states that for 23 years, all but one of the winning teams of major tournaments – Women’s World Cup, Women’s Euros, and the Olympics – have been coached by women.
Female coaches have proven themselves to successfully lead female teams time and time again, showing the demand for more women to get into the field. According to Otto, since women have had to fight to climb their way through the coaching ranks, it has made them more meticulous and invested in their planning and vision as a coach.
The presence of women in these coaching roles is extremely important as there is an incredibly strong connection between women that cannot be fully replicated or understood by males. Girls have grown up with similar struggles and challenges which holds such a significance on the way women help each other learn and grow.
“I truly believe there is such power in women supporting women, there’s this unspoken energy and intuition that is shared amongst women. Women understand from real life experience exactly what it is to be a woman and understand how important connection and support is,” says Otto.
This connection between women is so special and rare which is a huge reason as to why we have seen such success from female coaches in recent years. With Otto’s experience and success throughout her coaching career, it’s safe to say that this female connection that her teams share with her has made an impact on each club – especially with Bond’s history-making wins this year.
The dynamic of sporting teams are changing rapidly, with women dominating as both coaches and players, but what about the behind-the-scenes roles we rarely get to see? Those who work in sports media are very important since they are the ones who control what goes onto our screens. Without them, sport would not be such a prevalent part of Australian culture since we would have significantly less access.
Sports television broadcasters are the ones who decide what games we watch and when, dictating the amount of promotion and screen time each sport gets, which is where the importance of their roles for women comes into play.
The reason this country loves sports so much is because of how much promotion it has gotten through the years, playing at prime time, and giving us the opportunity to form personal connections to the games, teams, and players.
With womens’ sports coming onto the scene recently, it is more essential for sports’ channels to give the leagues more screen time so that the same culture and support we see for the men can be replicated.
One of the best opportunities to do this effectively is to employ female broadcasters and producers. When trying to implement change at a company, having opinions and ideas from those who have a direct connection undoubtedly provides the best results.
When trying to promote and gain traction for womens’ sports leagues, the best set of eyes and ideas will come from women. This is especially since they understand the challenges and setbacks the athletes had to face to get to where they are since sport’s production and broadcasting is also a historically male-dominated field.
Sport Sponsorship Specialist, Jan Cameron, has been in the field since 2001 and has seen the opportunity for more women to join her grow significantly larger. Working specifically in the AFL for the majority of her career, she works closely with major broadcasting talent and is very used to working in a male dominated sector.
Unfortunately, she says that for the female talent she works with, it is still peppered with misogyny, and it is a shame that it is something they just have to get used to. However, she also sees a rapidly changing dynamic, providing a hopeful future for women.
“The landscape is changing, and this is mainly due to the young men and women coming through who assume equality as they have been taught,” says Cameron.
“I watch the female broadcast talent I work with deal with different levels of scrutiny and criticism compared to the men they work with. The male broadcasters I work with who call for women’s sport don’t appear to receive the same resistance.”
With such a rapid increase in support shown towards women’s sport, it is no shock that there is still a long way to come in all landscapes of the sporting world. Until recently, there were very little fans of womens’ sports and subsequently no reason to heavily broadcast or promote it.
“Women’s sport in broadcasting appears to have traditionally been a wait and see proposition – wait until the audience is there and then a broadcaster will provide the investment and commitment to a telecast. Rather than what appears to be the way for men’s sport, where a broadcaster can promote and create an event with gusto,” says Cameron.
Due to her many years in the field, she has also commented on the shift from this ‘traditional’ way of broadcasting women’s sport to what it has become today.
“In recent years there has been a tangible response from audiences and advertisers when a broadcaster actually invests in the promotion of women’s sport, and the quality of production. AFLW and the FIFA WWC are two examples of this – heavy promotion, investment in quality broadcasts and thoughtful placement allowed for instant reward in audience numbers,” said Cameron. “A larger investment into the promotion and broadcasting of women’s sport has been seen through the years and its success provides ample opportunity for it to grow further and larger than anyone could have imagined.”
“Just seeing the support for the Matildas’ World Cup campaign is a real insight to where our country stands on supporting women in sport. The hunger is there for it, the women and girls are ready for it. Now we just need the buy-in from the clubs, broadcasters, and leagues to create parity with the men’s and women’s programs.”– Emily Otto, 2023
Cameron does however believe that the success of the FIFA Women’s World Cup has a lot to do with the international scale and talent of the event. Soccer is one of the largest sports in the world due to the long history of success seen in male leagues and the fanbase that has already been developed. The eleven players on the field at a time are also the very best of each country’s talent. The quality of play was extraordinary, gaining the love and support from those who never usually watch the game due to the heavy promotion from Channel Seven.
Other sporting codes would be naive to assume the same response without those same key elements that made the WWC such a spectacularly successful event. A recent example of this is the Netball World Cup that took place a few weeks prior to the soccer that barely caused a ripple from both broadcasters and fans.
There is still room for improvement across the board when it comes to screen time and promotion in women’s sport however, there has been an incredible improvement seen in recent years, establishing the importance of women in these roles for now and into the future.
With the world changing each day to provide equal opportunity for women, it is the perfect time for young girls to follow their dreams in the sporting world, especially in these off-field roles. It is such an exciting time for women in sport as they now have an opportunity to grow and thrive, with the help of ground-breaking women as their mentors, leading them to their full potential.