World-beating Australian sportswomen demonstrate refusal to play second fiddle

Megan Maurice
Photograph: Damien Poullenot/WSL/Poullenot via Getty Images

Over an incredible 24-hour period Sunday into Monday, some of Australia’s leading female athletes asserted their dominance on the world stage. Two of them – Ashleigh Barty and Sally Fitzgibbons – earned the world No 1 ranking in their respective sports, while the third, Western Australian golfer Hannah Green, took out her first LPGA title – at a major nonetheless.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of these victories isn’t that Australian sportswomen are leading the way. Australia has a long history of female athletes and teams succeeding in the international arena. It is that they continue to do so with significantly less than their male counterparts in terms of resources, pay and prize money.

Related: Hannah Green: Australia's latest world-beating sportswoman | Rod Morri

Barty’s meteoric rise has been well-documented, with the likeable tennis star recording her first grand slam victory at the French Open earlier this month. Her win at the Birmingham Classic catapulted Barty to the summit of world tennis and locked her in as the top seed for Wimbledon.

Fitzgibbons’ victory in Brazil was the surfer’s first since the Margaret River Pro in 2017, however she chipped away at the top ranking with podium finishes throughout the season to complete an incredible comeback from a shoulder injury suffered in 2018.

A protégé of Australian golf legend Karrie Webb, Green had flown under the radar of most Australians before her breakthrough LPGA win in Minnesota. But her surprise one-shot win over incumbent champion Park Sung-hyun was the result of four years of hard work under Webb’s watchful eye.

For her efforts on the weekend, Green took home $577,500. That is a significant figure and one that many athletes competing in the AFLW, WBBL and Super Netball could only dream of, but the total available across the LPGA tour is $70m, while the men’s tour will have close to $500m available to golfers.

Tennis offers equal prize money for male and female winners in grand slams, but since Wimbledon became the last to offer pay parity in 2007, other tournaments have continued to offer more prize money to men throughout the year. This means that Barty’s new world No 1 status will not give her the same earning power as her male counterpart, Novak Djokovic, even if she achieves the same longevity at the top.

The World Surf League introduced equal pay for male and female surfers for the first time in 2019 after a wave of pressure mounted in light of a male winner of a junior competition receiving double the prize money of the female winner in the same event.

Access to resources continues to be an issue for female athletes – from junior girls being allocated off-peak time slots and inadequate training facilities all the way up to the French Open semi-finals being played on outside courts while the men’s matches took centre stage.

There are always reasons offered up for a lack of equity in pay and resources. From male athletes being bigger, faster and stronger to their matches being longer or their sports bringing in more money and spectators.

Related: 'I thought that was it': why Ash Barty almost gave up tennis for good

However much less airtime is given to the fact that men have had the monopoly on marketing, resources and spectators for many years before women’s sport was properly funded or broadcast. While the Sunday club of champions are full-time athletes, many of their predecessors, not to mention their female counterparts in many team sports in Australia, continue to work part-time jobs while pursuing their sporting ambitions in their free time.

While there are certainly differences between men’s and women’s sports, years of conditioning has led many viewers to see the male version as the default. This leads to the belief that the differences women bring to the sport are inferiorities. This belief permeates through all levels of sport and has wide-ranging effects, from an Under-12 girls’ team being pushed out to a later training time to female golfers having less earning potential than their male counterparts.

The fact that Australian sportswomen are achieving at the level they are, despite the additional hurdles in their way, demonstrates astounding drive and deep-seated passion for their sport.

With Australia now beginning to invest in women’s sport at greater levels than ever before, competitions such as Super Netball are opening doors for women around the world, including those from countries such as Uganda and Malawi, where opportunities to play professional sport are life-changing for women.

While there are many more hurdles to scale before women in sport achieve equality, the achievements of the Sunday club are a timely reminder that Australia’s sportswomen are on top of the world and will no longer accept playing second fiddle.