“Rethink Role Models” Campaign Gives Australia’s Biggest Female Sporting Heroes The Kudos They Deserve

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Close your eyes and think of a world famous athlete. Who comes to mind? Soccer player Pele? Tennis great Andre Agassi? Or perhaps Super Bowl-winning footballer Peyton Manning? If a famous female athlete came to mind instead congratulations, you are part of the change. If not, then this article is more relevant than we thought…

We’ve written a number of times about the coverage of women’s sports internationally as well as the equal pay issue. With athletes like Serena Williams only one grand slam title away from beating Steffi Graf’s record of 22 wins, and the USWNT winning the World Cup in 2015 more than any US men’s national team has ever come close, it’s safe to say that many of the “excuses” that have traditionally been touted about women’s sports (“they don’t get enough viewers!” and “it’s not as exciting as the men’s games!”, for instance) should no longer apply.

But it’s not just in the US where the problem lies in terms of gender-divided media sports coverage. In Australia, a country that eats, sleeps and breathes sports, the disparity is not just obvious, it is gaping. In a report compiled by the Australian Sports Commission in 2015 found that women only feature in 7% of sports coverage nationally. No, we’re not missing any zeroes there.

Despite many of the female teams down under boasting a number of enviable wins, including Olympic and International titles, the men’s teams still get the lion’s share of broadcast coverage. So when you think about some of the excuses people use to justify the exclusion of female sporting events, merit or achievement should not be part of the equation. One of the country’s most accomplished national outfits is the Australian Diamond Netball Team.

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They have won 10 out of a total 13 World Cup Netball Championships, and are the reigning champs after beating the New Zealand Silver Ferns in a nail-biting final, and are ranked number one in the world. Oh and the year before that the team won Gold at the Commonwealth Games, no big deal…

Earlier this year one of the main national broadcast stations, Nine Network Australia, signed a 5-year deal with Netball Australia, the sport’s governing body, to air both domestic and international games, giving the women a much-needed boost. Netball Australia has also launched its own app so that fans can have access to live games anytime, anywhere.

This deal will hopefully have a major impact on an entire generation of young girls who are looking for positive Australian role models to look up to in a world that is filled with far too many negatives ones who get all the attention. After the Diamonds won the 2015 World Cup, and the Australian women’s cricket team won the Ashes series (a hallowed battle between arch rivals England and Australia) to become the most lauded female cricket team of all time, News.com.au writer Em Rusciano pointed out how disappointing it is that the media seem to focus more on the scandals and controversies of the male athletes (there’s never a shortage of those, it seems, internationally…) than freaking world-class achievements of the female athletes.

“Is that what it takes to get your love Australia?! Do our female athletes need to start acting out to get some attention? Even when they are winning we barely talk about them…Can you think of the last sporting scandal that involved a female athlete? No, me either. Most of the female athletes in this country have to work day jobs as well as train full time so I guess they just don’t have the space in their calendars to behave badly huh?” she laments, and we concur.

Which is why a new campaign spearheaded by Samsung, featuring the Diamonds Netball team, is going to be a game-changer in the best way possible. It won’t alter the athletes’ results, clearly they are already badass enough to win trophy after championship after title. It may not necessarily change the percentage of broadcasting hours dedicated to women’s sports. But what it WILL do is inspire young girls across the country to emulate a group of women who are proving that success and hard work is worth it, despite the barriers that society puts up.

‘Rethink Role Models’ is designed to engage girls to get into sport and position certain female athletes as the people to look up to. Australia has a rich tradition of holding up professional sportspeople as heroes, and it’s about time we see a generation of kids growing up to view female athletes with the same amount of kudos as the men – sans the scandals, obviously!

The Samsung series features a handful of the Diamonds, including captain Laura Geitz, Sharni Layton, Caitlin Bassett who scored a whopping 48 goals in their 58-55 World Cup win, and Paige Hadley among others. Each vignette has titles like “Inner Strength”, “prove them wrong”, and “never give up” and aside from powerful visuals showing the women in their natural sporting environment, we also get to see a more personal side of what some of them have battled to find greatness.

Paige describes the devastation she felt after tearing her ACL during practice one day, fearing the worst. It is a very common sporting injury that ends up sidelining over 80% of those affected, but not Paige Hadley. She summoned her fighting spirit to recover completely, and soon after getting back on the court she was told that she was selected to represent her country in the World Cup, which of course they ended up winning.

Laura reveals how losing her dad to a tragic car accident almost made her give up on sporting greatness. But when she realized giving up would not be what her dad would want her to do, the decision to keep going would prove to be a life-changing moment, as she was named Captain of the team not long after, enabling her to inherit the leadership of one of Australia’s most accomplished and treasured sporting teams.

Diamond Sharni Layton’s vignette is titled “prove them wrong” (which certainly is a great phrase indicating what the team are doing with this Samsung mini-series) and she told the Daily Telegraph that the image she is trying to portray is to be yourself and not try to fit in, which is a nod to the success of the Diamonds and how they have forged ahead despite the lack of female coverage in Australian sports broadcasting.

“As netballers we don’t have the platform that other sports do in regards to recognition, it’s definitely getting better. But there aren’t a lot of female role models for young girls to look up to in the sporting world. So for me, my whole persona is all about wanting girls to be themselves, wanting them to work really hard,” she said.

With 1.2 million Australians playing netball, the increased visibility of these women as role models is so important. Samsung Electronics Corporate Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Philip Newton said they will sponsor the Diamonds from a grassroots level all the way up to the national stage.

“Our newest ambassadors are some of the country’s strongest athletes and personalities. Not only are they gifted netballers, they are positive role models for all Australians and we’re delighted to have them on board,” he said in a statement.

This is the kind of recognition we hope to see in women’s sport everywhere. With the knowledge that these professional athletes are the perfect role models for a younger generation in an age where “femvertising” trends seen in commercials such as Always’ ‘Like A Girl’ and Under Armour’s ‘I Will What I Want’, there are plenty of female empowerment messages already built-in in the world of sports that we need to see more of.

You can see the ‘Rethink Role Models’ video series featuring 5 of the Australian Diamond players below:


 

 

 

 

 

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