'If you haven't felt it then you don't get it': On racism & gender equality in sport

‘If you haven’t felt it then you don’t get it’: On racism & gender equality in sport

future of sport

Talking about the future of sport, panellists on Monday night’s episode of Q&A delivered a potent message about the need for change in the hierarchies of Australia’s sporting codes.  

From a distinct lack of ‘cultural competence’ at the top level, to the disproportionate number of women in high-powered positions, it was put forward that sporting codes simply “saying the right things” is not enough.

Bruce Djite, a former Socceroos player and director of football at Adelaide United put it plainly when he said, “If you haven’t felt it, if you don’t have that context knowledge, then you don’t get it.”

Djite is talking about the lack of “cultural competence” at the top level of most sporting codes. He said if there were more people of diverse backgrounds at the top, we would see real change across the board. It’s the first and most important step in stamping out racism.

“I tell you now, if there was an Indigenous person on the AFL Comission, or as AFL CEO, during the time when Adam Goodes was getting racially vilified, it would have had a different reaction. The guy might still be actively involved in the sport.”

Djite then said it’s a similar situation for women’s sport, which has been left behind the men’s game without adequate mainstream media coverage and under investment.

“If there more women in high powered positions, entrenched in the sporting game, [women’s sport] would have greater media coverage, it would have greater investment.”

“So while there’s intelligent people, extremely smart people, extremely influential people in the hierarchy, as players, as administrators – if they don’t have the context knowledge, if we don’t entrench these people in the hierarchies of our sports, then change may come

“But it will come much slower, with many more regrets, than if those people with those lived experience were in those positions.”

Journalist Tracey Holmes said that despite a lot of momentum for women’s sport in recent years, since the pandemic began “it’s just dropped completely off the agenda.”

“For instance, FIFA is going to announce in about 10 days where the next FIFA Women’s World Cup will be staged and the joint bid by Australia and New Zealand is on top and in all likelihood, we’re going to get that,” Homes said.

“Now if it was 10 days out from the men’s world cup being awarded to Australia and New Zealand, it would be front page, back page, middle page, talk back radio – it would be everywhere.

“This is one of the biggest shows on the planet… and it’s just disappeared.

“All of the talk, all of the sports programs, all of the sports bulletins and results, once again, have gone back to 5, 6,7 years ago…it’s men, men, men, men, men.”

Australian netball and AFLW star Sharni Layton agreed that more needs to be done for the women’s game, and specifically called out the North Melbourne club for sacking their AFLW coach Scott Gowans earlier this month.

“How much do the clubs really care about their programs when they are getting rid of the head coaches and giving the assistant coach to the men’s that head role, who won’t be able to put the same investment into the women’s program,” Layton said.

“Why are the cuts coming straight to the women’s program rather than somewhere else in the club?” she asked.

Holmes also cited some new research from True North into fans’ emotional engagement in sport. She said the top four teams that Australians feel most connected to are women’s teams.

“The top four teams in Australia are all women’s teams,” she said. “The Australian women’s cricket team has just overtaken the Matildas, but the Matildas have been there constantly…the Diamonds are there too.”

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