Banish the boy's club: is 2015 the year of women in sport?

Banish the boy's club: is 2015 the year of women in sport?

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Site: Yeong Sassall

Could 2015 be a banner year for female sportsplayers getting the recognition they deserve? Andy Shepherd sure seems to think so

Sport. It's a man's game...  At least it has been for as long as I can remember. Throughout the annuls of time, men have been the main event, the focus of all mainstream sports. Back in Roman times it was never Tina and Michelle battling it out as gladiators to the death, but Brutus and Spartacus going for each others jugular. In today's slightly less barbaric world, TV channels are full of men's soccer, men's AFL, men's rugby, men's cricket, even men's darts... but still have little room for anything with a Tina or Michelle present.

Why? Women's sports just don't sell. At least that's the consensus amongst the people who make the big decisions. The TV broadcasters and sponsors. And I agree, and likely so do you. When was the last time you scalped tickets to your local women's soccer team match, or settled in on a Saturday afternoon to catch the women's rugby on TV? Yes, there is a lack of opportunity to find these sports to watch, but part of that is due to a lack of demand. The public just isn't interested - or so goes the party line.

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But 2015 looks to be the start of an uprising... Tina and Michelle may soon have their time in the gladiators arena, after all. This week, Michelle Payne became the first female jockey to ride the winning horse home in the iconic Melbourne Cup. Payne used her victory to send a message to her critics, telling them to "get stuffed". She highlighted her struggle within the industry, exposing its chauvinistic attitudes and the lack of opportunity that female jockeys are given.

Many had doubted that women had the physical and mental strength to succeed in such a discipline. Payne has proven this oh-so wrong. Competing directly with men, on equal terms, she showed she had the talent, determination, and indeed strength to outperform all those around her. She was simply better on the day. And she's not the only woman to break out and make a stand for women in sport in 2015.

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The US national soccer team captured the hearts of their nation and also the world this year when they won the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup. They also captured the eyes of the nation as the domestic viewing figures for their final showdown with Japan brought a peak audience of 22.8 million in the US alone. To put this in perspective, baseball, one of the US's most beloved pastimes, drew 23.5 million for their 2014 World Series final. Australia's entire population is 23.1 million!

Never before has this women's event received such viewership and press attention. Several of their players, including their captain Carli Lloyd, became media starlets and the team won the prestigious ESPYs Team of the Year award, even beating NFL heavyweights the New England Patriots. Most importantly, they've been accepted into the mainstream - audiences are engaged with them and people want to watch them play.

But there is one woman who is undeniably the flag-bearer for breakout women in sport this year - Ronda Rousey. If you don't know her name by now, you probably haven't been on the internet since 2014. She is the global face of MMA - mixed martial arts, or fighting to the uninitiated. She is undefeated in 12 fights (her next bout is on November 14 in Melbourne against Holly Holm) and has finished most of her opponents in a matter of seconds. A role model to many, Ronda embraces her naturally athletic form, but is open about her battle to accept her shape while growing up - she hopes that young girls can now see that strong physiques should be embraced.

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Even Hollywood has become enamoured with her. She appeared alongside action-hero royalty in The Expendables 3, was Turtle's love interest in the Entourage movie and is about to begin filming a biopic of her life, with her starring in the lead role. She has graced the cover of countless magazines and is fast becoming an icon for fitness fanatics and basically, any woman who likes to work out. The UFC, the leading organisation in MMA, only introduced a women's division in 2013 with Rousey taking part in the first match. In two years she has become the highest paid athlete in the sport. Money Mayweather move over.... Rolling-in-it-Rousey is coming through.

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Women have for a long time matched men with their professionalism, skill and determination in sports, but 2015 has seen them capture the hearts and eyes of the public. They are now beating men, main eventing, selling tickets and attracting huge numbers of viewers - all the things that make sport so valuable to sponsors and broadcasters. Will we look back on 2015 in years to come and see it as the start of gender equality in spectator sports? I hope so. All I know is that I'll be staying up and paying out to watch Rousey's fight on the 14th. Tina and Michelle may not be in the gladiator's arena, but Ronda and Holly certainly are...

Twitter: @andyjshep
Instagram: @andyshep

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