Despite rumours circulating in Australia about the risk of AFL and NRL clubs shutting down their respective women’s teams, Aussies could be in the strongest position of all when it comes to the survival of women’s sports.
The financial impact of coronavirus is a present concern that will remain a headache once lockdowns are lifted across the world. The cost of lost media rights, club sponsorship, memberships, season tickets and ticket sales is almost unthinkable and with these costs come the sad truth that women’s sports seem the most likely to take the hit.
Yet, according to ABC Australia, the grassroots impact actioned by the women’s sports icons in Australia could put women in a reasonable position post-coronavirus. They say that the sheer number of girls playing previously male-dominated sports like cricket, rugby and Aussie rules footy at a grassroots level could soften the blow.
Australia has been at the forefront of championing the professionalisation of women’s leagues with the first-ever professional netball league set up in 2008, professional cricket and football leagues have cemented this. Football Federation Australia was the first governing body to introduce an equal pay deal for their women's side, meaning the Matildas will now earn the same matchday fee as their male counterparts.
Australia was even the host of a record-breaking crowd at this year's T20 Women's World Cup with over 80,000 fans turning out at the Melbourne Cricket Ground to watch the home side take the crown. These professional leagues and competitions have also produced a number of women's sports icons for young girls across Australia and the world to look up to and idolise.
ABC believes that as a result of professionalising and championing women’s sports, more and more young girls have taken up sports at a local and grassroots level. It seems that this could indicate a wider and sustainable change for women’s sports Down Under. With wider participation comes a broader audience for women’s sports and consequently a vastly bigger fan base.
These investments in largely loss-making leagues could have huge positive impacts in years to come. Coronavirus will have its own massive short-term effects and clubs and leagues will most definitely be affected by financial strain in the coming months and perhaps years. However, the professionalisation of women’s leagues in Australia is likely to produce far-reaching benefits if a more long-term outlook is used.
Girls participating at a grassroots level in any number of sports is more likely to mean they will be lifelong followers of the game. With this following comes their own personal investment, whether as a season ticket holder or TV watcher - a financial no brainer for clubs and leagues.
The UK's women's leagues could take a bigger hit following coronavirus purely as a result of their youth. Yet, governing bodies and those in the driving seats at clubs and leagues must recommit to women's sports to see a long-term and sustainable return to their investments.
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