Women's Football, Men's Netball
Amanda Smith: And today, crossing the old gender divide in sport. Once upon a time, blokes played footy and girls played netball. But not any more.
Amanda Smith: Now Australian football, the rugby codes, and netball are traditionally the most popular winter team sports in Australia. But as far as who plays which sport goes, things aren't as clear cut as they used to be.
WOMEN IN RUGBY SCRUM
Kelly: I always get asked 'What sort of protective clothing do you wear?' and my answer always is, 'A mouthguard and headgear'. 'Well what about a chestplate, don't you wear a chestplate?' 'No, there's no such thing as chestplates, you don't actually need them. Do you boys wear a box when you play rugby union? No, you don't. We don't need chestplates.'
Kate: The fact that you use all your body, you use your arms, your legs and the whole of your body, and you throw yourself into things. That physical part of it to me isn't about battle or masculinity, it's just about using your whole body and being a bit rough with your body, pushing your body.
Scott: Played basketball, football, cricket, all those type of sports, and to suddenly not be able to move your feet around too much was completely different. And throwing that in with netball and completely new rules, I think I was just too frightened to run around there at one stage, for fear of an umpire's whistle.
David: Coming from like a family that's into football, it took a bit of time; got a lot of bagging from mates and all that, but once they actually start watching men playing netball, especially at a higher level, they're quite impressed with the speed, the elevation, just the whole charisma of the game.
Amanda Smith: And we'll hear more from footy players Kate and Kelly, and netballers David and Scott, later on in The Sports Factor.
But first, what do you reckon is the fastest growing women's team sport in the country? Well, let me tell you: it's soccer. In the last 15 years, the number of registered female players has gone from fewer than 5,000, to around 50,000. And it's become even more popular, among women and girls, in the United States. And it's in the United States that the Women's World Cup for soccer is about to kick off.
Julie Murray is the captain of the Australian team for this World Cup. The Matildas are currently in Toronto, playing warm-up matches before their World Cup campaign starts in just over a week's time.
Julie Murray, welcome to The Sports Factor.
Julie Murray: Thanks a lot.
Amanda Smith: Now Julie, you also captained the Australian team in the previous World Cup in Sweden in 1995. Now there Australia finished the wooden-spooners, 12th of the 12 national teams competing (but at least you did qualify, unlike the Socceroos, for the last men's World Cup). Nevertheless, how much has Australian women's soccer and the national team in particular, come on since then?
Julie Murray: Well I think in particular the last two years you've probably seen the greatest growth in women's soccer in Australia. It's probably largely due to our financial support from the Australian Sports Commission, and I guess more than anything the inclusion of soccer in the Olympic Games. So the sort of things that have happened are that we've got enough money now to have a full-time program at the Institute of Sport, where we can train together 12, 13, 14 times a week together, which is a lot better than just getting together perhaps about two or three weeks before we went away to the last one.
Amanda Smith: And I understand that Australia is in fact the only country in the world to now have a full-time residential training program for its women's national team, as you have now at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra. How did that come about, Julie?
Julie Murray: Oh I guess credit to our Association; they were able to obviously put together a pretty good package and convince the Government and the Olympic Committee that we were worth taking on board in that regard. Some of the nations actually do have training facilities, but nothing like the Australian Institute of Sport, and they also do get together for an extended period of time. But I don't think they have classified full-time residential soccer programs like ours.
Amanda Smith: Well you're the longest-serving player in this team, having first played in the national squad back in 1986. How much has changed around the team and the sport since then?
Julie Murray: Well I guess you could say that professionalism has risen a great deal, but in saying that, players of those days still had great pride and passion for the game, and unfortunately for them, they didn't have the money and the backing and the support like we do now. And I guess I'm lucky in a way, that I've sort of lived through both those playing times. Although I guess it's unfortunate that I'm not going to be seeing it maybe two, three, four years down the track, when there's going to be even a lot of more money put into the sport.
Amanda Smith: So now who are the hot favourites and tough competitors in this World Cup tournament?
Julie Murray: You'll probably find the usual teams, the likes of the US, particularly because they're on their home soil, and they also won the gold medal in Atlanta. China has been named as favourites for the tournament having beaten the US I think a couple of times this year already. And always Norway, and most of the other Scandinavian countries are pretty much the same. We've actually got Sweden, China and Ghana in our first group, so it's going to be very, very tough. But we have beaten China before and we've beaten Sweden in our last two encounters. So we're looking for a pretty good positioning after the first round.
Amanda Smith: Well then, the very best of luck with it all Julie, and thanks so much for speaking with me.
Julie Murray: A pleasure, it was fun.
Amanda Smith: Julie Murray, captain of the Matildas, the Australian Women's Soccer team, joining me on the phone there from Toronto, where the team is warming up before their first World Cup match on Sunday week.
The President of the Organising Committee for this Women's World Cup in the USA is Marla Messing; and she says that her aim with the World Cup is to stage a breakthrough event for women's sport.
Marla Messing: Well certainly in terms of attendance, we're going to have more than 500,000 people in the stadiums; in terms of television coverage with all 32 matches being covered by locally in the United States by ABC, ESPN, and ESPN2. Media coverage: we've had over 2,000 media credential applications. You know in all those respects we feel like we are really raising the bar on sporting events staged for women.
Amanda Smith: Well initial plans for this World Cup in the US, as I understand, were to stage the matches in smallish regional venues, but you decided to take the risk of going big and putting matches on in major venues, like the Giants' stadium in New York/New Jersey and the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. On what basis did you make that decision, and is it going to work?
Marla Messing: Well first of all, we saw what happened here during the Olympics in 1996, when 77,000 fans packed into Sanford Stadium in Athens, Georgia, for the Olympic gold medal match. And we determined that there was probably sufficient demand to put the games in large stadiums. We knew at the time that we would never fill these stadiums for all the matches, but for some select matches, the opening, the semi-finals and the final, we thought we could fill the stadiums, and we wanted to make sure we allowed the event to reach its potential. If we had gone to the small stadiums we would have sold out a long, long time ago and there's so many people who would have missed the opportunity to see great women's soccer.
Amanda Smith: Well the previous women's World Cup in Sweden had a total attendance of I think 115,000 spectators; you've already pre-sold over 400,000. That's a pretty massive growth rate as far as spectator numbers for this World Cup event goes.
Marla Messing: It sure is. As you point out we've quadrupled what they did in Sweden in 1995, and that is in part due to the size of the United States. But I think also due to the continued growth of women's soccer around the world and the continued interest in the sport. We pay our respects to what they accomplished in Sweden, but we are pleased to be able to surpass their attendance numbers.
Amanda Smith: Now I believe that you have something like 7-1/2-million registered female soccer players in the US, which seems like a phenomenal figure to me. To what do you attribute this enormous growth in women's soccer in the USA?
Marla Messing: Well there's a couple of things. Here in the United States we have a law that's called Title IX, which basically demands equality for men and women in sports. And that law was enacted about 25 years ago and has really spurred the growth of women's sports in the United States: tennis, basketball, softball and soccer, all these sports have benefited from it. And I think certainly having a successful US team has also helped propel the growth of the sport.
Amanda Smith: What kind of status and public profile do your top female soccer players attract now, Marla? Players like Mia Hamm, for example.
Marla Messing: Well Mia's now considered the most marketable female athlete in the United States. So the profile has come a very long way in the last couple of years, and certainly the tournament, the spotlight on the tournament has created an afterglow for a number of these players.
Amanda Smith: Now soccer is of course traditionally a men's game, and in the USA like in Australia, not nearly as popular as other spectator sports. So why has it gained such popularity among women to play this game?
Marla Messing: I think it's a great sport for women to play; I think it's a very healthy, very pro-fitness sport for young girls to play, perhaps not as risky as a sport like gymnastics or some of the other sports. It's a sport that doesn't require a lot of apparatus or a lot of expensive materials. And it's also a sport that they can play well into their 30s and in some cases into their 40s.
Amanda Smith: Is women's soccer in the US working towards a professional league?
Marla Messing: US Soccer, which is the national governing body for soccer in the United States, has commissioned a feasibility study for a professional soccer league and they're looking in to launching such a league in 2001.
Amanda Smith: Marla Messing, the President of Women's World Cup 99, speaking to me there from her office in Los Angeles.
And now, to women who play other football codes.
Coach: I want everybody together! Work hard!
Amanda Smith: That's the Victorian Women's Rugby team, at training earlier this week with the scrum machine. Kelly Meredith is the captain of the team. And Kate Lawrence plays Australian football. She's a former Secretary of the Victorian Women's Football League, and now co-ordinates their second division competition. By day, Kelly's a dietician, and Kate's a lawyer; both started playing their brand of football in their 20s.
Kate Lawrence: I came back from overseas and some friends of mine took me to a match, that happened to be a Grand Final.
Amanda Smith: This is a women's match?
Kate Lawrence: Yes, the women's Grand Final, probably about '91, and just there and then I said, 'I'm going to play that sport.' I always wanted to play in primary school; I remember doing a big school project on Australian Rules Football, but there was just no avenue then. So the next year I duly rolled up at a training session and haven't looked back since.
Amanda Smith: And what about you, Kelly? What about you and rugby?
Kelly Meredith: Well I guess separate from Kate, I actually learnt to play Aussie Rules when I was six years old, in Queensland. I had an older brother and a younger brother who both played Aussie Rules, and I learnt to kick a football when I was six years old. At that time there was no female Aussie Rules and I wasn't able to use my skills I guess. And up until when I was 24 I couldn't play. As a teenager, I went to private school, started to watch rugby, started to learn a bit about the game and then consequently in 1994 in Queensland, we started a women's comp. So I was probably the first person to sign on to play.
Amanda Smith: Well was part of the attraction for you Kate, that it was unusual, transgressive even, for a woman to play a sport so traditionally associated with, and defined as a game for blokes?
Kate Lawrence: For me it definitely was. There's always been a bit of attraction to anything that I'm told I can't do because of my sex. And with football, that was definitely so, because football's such a big thing in Victoria in particular, but obviously other States, and it simply seems to drive the sporting culture, so that there's a real attraction of wanting to play and be part of that.
Amanda Smith: Mind you, while there's an awful lot of women who support and follow Aussie Rules around the country, for most women it doesn't translate into wanting to play, does it?
Kate Lawrence: Well it's hard to translate it into playing, so often the desire to play is simply stopped immediately. And I actually think that becomes diverted into becoming a very passionate supporter in lots of senses. And if you look at the schools program that's now in Victorian high schools, they're just teeming with girls wanting to play, and that's only been around for a few years. But the level of interest and the number of girls that want to play, I think it's probably always been there, but there's never been the avenue for them to be able to do so.
Amanda Smith: Kelly, what does rugby offer you as a player, that other sports you've played haven't?
Kelly Meredith: I guess the difference between Rugby Union or Aussie Rules for that matter, and other sports that females might play, is the contact certainly. That's something that you don't get in other sports like netball or even individual sports like swimming or athletics for example. Certainly the camaraderie that you gain from being in a contact sport is great, in Rugby Union.
I guess the other thing about Rugby Union and similarly again for Aussie Rules is that within a Rugby Union team you'll have a range of size in people from, say, in a women's team maybe 55 kilos up to 100-plus kilos. Now a 100 kilo woman typically couldn't play any other sport. You know there's not too many things, perhaps things like shot-put, hammer-throwing or something like that, but other than that there's not really any team sport that they can actually play. And people like, I mean there's 100 kilo players in the Australian team, and they're excellent. They're wonderfully skilled, obviously very strong and very useful on the pitch. And that's the big thing about Rugby Union, that you can be (similarly for men's Rugby Union as well) you can be small or you can be large and still there's a place within the team for a person of any size.
Kate Lawrence: Similarly in Australian Rules. It's quite funny, often people say, 'You're a bit small to play Australian Rules'. But it's all relative, you're playing against your peers. And there is room for little rovers, who are invaluable as much as a big tall ruck.
Amanda Smith: All right, now girls, can we talk about bosoms please? Because they are the things that are always put up as the reason why women can't or shouldn't play the contact football codes. So are bosoms an issue? Kate?
Kate Lawrence: No, I'm breast-feeding at the moment and I'm playing full-on football and it doesn't make any difference.
Kelly Meredith: Rugby Union definitely no. I always get asked 'What sort of protective clothing do you wear?' and my answer always is, 'A mouthguard and headgear'. 'Well what about a chestplate, don't you wear a chestplate?' 'No, there's no such thing as chestplates, you don't actually need them. Do you boys wear a box when you play Rugby Union? No, you don't. We don't need chestplates.'
Amanda Smith: Well given that the rugby codes and Australian football have always been such an expression of a particular form of masculinity, of hard, tough men pitched in battle, how do you see yourselves as players in relation to that?
Kate Lawrence: For me it's not really an issue. I play and wanted to play because it looks like fun. The fact that you use all your body, you use your arms, your legs and the whole of your body, and you throw yourself into things; I mean I come from a big family and we used to do lots of wrestling and things like that. And that physical part of it to me isn't about battle or masculinity, it's just about using your whole body and being a bit rough with your body, pushing your body.
Kelly Meredith: My reasons for playing Rugby Union are nothing to do with the ethos of the sport or anything like that. It's a similar sort of background to Kate. I grew up with brothers and wrestling and doing those sorts of things, and I learnt to play cricket when I was quite young, and kick a football and do those sorts of things, so it was just natural for me to want to play that sort of game when I got the chance to. So the idea of being - of course there's always comments, probably Kate gets them as well, about being masculine, and 'Look at those masculine players' and so forth, but I don't think it has anything to do with the type of people that we are.
Amanda Smith: Yes, well I did certainly want to ask you about what sort of responses you've had from other people. Kate, what sort of responses have you had over the time that you've been playing, both from men and from women, but those not involved with your team, when they find out that you play footy?
Kate Lawrence: The women seem to say 'Isn't it rough?' and 'Isn't it too rough?'. And they wouldn't want to play because of the perceived roughness of the game. Often you just get a response of 'Do women play football?' - they have just total disbelief that women do it. Sometimes you get asked really silly questions, like 'Do you wear football boots?'. What else would we wear?
Amanda Smith: Thongs maybe?
Kate Lawrence: Stilettos I think was more what they were imagining. Usually when you talk to people, after a while they come round, and you can obviously convince them that 'Yes, it does happen'.
Amanda Smith: Kate, has playing the game made a difference to the way you watch and appreciate the professional level of your sport, the AFL?
Kate Lawrence: Oh it's made an enormous difference for me. I'd always followed football, but really all I knew was the scores. I knew that a goal was six points and that when you added them all up whoever had the most was the winner. I had no idea about positions or the centre square, and having played now for a number of years, I have a much greater understanding and appreciation of the game, and love watching it. And can appreciate what they're doing because I've done those things before.
Amanda Smith: But is playing more fun than watching?
Kate Lawrence: Absolutely. Much more fun.
Kelly Meredith: Definitely more fun.
Kate Lawrence: It's a totally different experience. You're actually out there participating rather than just being a spectator.
Kelly Meredith: You live the whole week to play a game on the weekend and games never seem to go for long enough.
Kate Lawrence: It's obsessive, once you start doing it.
GAME IN PROGRESS
Amanda Smith: And that was Kate Lawrence who plays Australian football, and rugby player, Kelly Meredith.
And both their codes have their national championships coming up next month, both in Perth.
Now, the crossover of who plays which sport hasn't all been one way. While women are taking to playing the football codes in increasing numbers, there's also a growing number of men who are dropping the traditional male sports in favour of netball.
David Ward plays for both the New South Wales and Australian men's netball teams; and Scott Donaghie plays for, and is President of, the Tasmanian men's netball side. But what was the impetus for taking up netball?
Scott Donaghie: Well approximately 12 years ago I was playing Aussie Rules and a number of the girlfriends of the players that were in the team were playing netball, and they were looking to get a mixed side together. So, being about 6'4", 6'5", they thought that I was a classic type of person to pop at one end of the court, to stand still, not move around and put your arms up in the air. So that's basically how it all started. And from there, the same type of theory, height, build, put him underneath the circle. And that's how I got involved with the men's.
Amanda Smith: David, was it a similar story for you?
David Ward: No, unfortunately I was actually playing basketball, and had a pretty serious injury with my ankle and ended up having a year off from sport. I met Sharon Finnan (who plays in the Australian team) at an indoor cricket competition, and she actually told me about a competition which was running, and I got involved through that way. Been with it ever since, and I think I've been going since '91.
Amanda Smith: Now Scott, I assume that you wouldn't have played netball before this, you wouldn't have learnt to play it at school. So was it easy or difficult to learn, especially the no running or stepping with the ball rule.
Scott Donaghie: Certainly a completely different scenario to what I was used to. I played basketball, football, cricket, all those type of sports, and to suddenly not be able to move your feet around too much was completely different. And being the usual tall guy, co-ordination is not something that comes easily to us, and throwing that in with netball and completely new rules, I think I was just too frightened to run around there at one stage for fear of an umpire's whistle. So yes, that was certainly different to start off with.
Amanda Smith: Well Scott, what sort of responses do you get when people find out you're a netballer?
Scott Donaghie: The first couple of years, because the sport was certainly in its infancy, there was a lot of flak copped by a number of the guys as to playing a girl's game as such. So I quickly turned it around and looked at it from the point of view that you've got six guys chasing eight girls around in mini-skirts, and it certainly changed a lot of their views, and actually brought a lot of guys into the sport.
Amanda Smith: Right, now this is in the mixed competition of course.
Scott Donaghie: That's in the mixed competition, yes. And of course once we get the guys involved in the mixed competition, they get their interest up, and straight away there's a candidate there for a potential men's game.
Amanda Smith: And what about you, David, what sort of responses have you had over time?
David Ward: Well looking at my job that I had when I virtually started playing this back in the early '90s, I was actually a prison officer, out here at Long Bay Jail. And a lot of the inmates found out that I was playing netball, so I copped a fair bit of flak about that. Other than that, coming from like a family that's into football, it took a bit of time; got a lot of bagging from mates and all that. But once they actually start watching men playing netball, especially at a high level, they're quite impressed with the speed, the elevation, just the whole charisma of the game.
Amanda Smith: Scott, initially, when you started playing, did you have any little doubts yourself that you were taking up a girl's sport?
Scott Donaghie: Never really considered it from that aspect. When I first started playing, my girlfriend, who is now my wife, was a part of that team. And it was seen to be basically an activity and a sport that we could do at the same time. And I think that's one of the major reasons why mixed netball has taken off in leaps and bounds.
Amanda Smith: David, women who play the football codes often speak of it as the fulfillment of a dream they'd had when they were young, but weren't allowed to do. Did you have any dreams of wanting to play netball when you were younger, but felt you couldn't?
David Ward: Definitely not. Sometimes I still wonder, I mean, what am I playing this sport for?
Amanda Smith: And what's your answer to that?
David Ward: That was in the early years. I only got into netball to get my body back into gear again with the injuries, get back in to my basketball, my cricket, and a few other things as well. But I'm playing it, I love the game, that's why I'm so heavily involved with it. I just want to see the game build. And any guy that wants to improve their sport, even basketball, if they go and have a game of netball and see how fast it is, it's going to improve their skills even on a basketball court.
Amanda Smith: Is that still why you're playing it, or has the game of netball itself taken over from other sports?
David Ward: Oh no, netball's definitely taken over. There are no other sports; I'm just a -
Amanda Smith: A netball freak?
David Ward: Yes, that's it. All my time is into netball now, other than my work and my family; the rest of it's just netball.
Amanda Smith: Now Scott, a couple of weeks ago I watched a men's State netball team training with one of the women's national league teams, and it seemed to me that there was a difference in the style of play between the two. It's not that all the men were bigger and stronger than all the women, it was much more mixed up than that. The women were definitely more skilled, but can you describe perhaps the difference in playing style?
Scott Donaghie: I think at the moment the male game is probably a lot more aerial. The girls, because they've been playing it for such a long time, starting off through the junior ranks, they've got the background and the base there for a skill level. With the men, that's something that a lot of the players have developed through playing basketball, but it's certainly not the same type of skill. And also co-ordination-wise the girls tend to have it a lot more over the guys. So because of those reasons, it is a different game. You're looking from an aerial point of view; the guys can jump, particularly when you're defending, and actually tap the ball away from the ring as the goalies are shooting. That's something that I haven't seen too many of the girls do at this stage. And guys being guys, tend to probably throw themselves at the ball a little bit more crazily than what the girls do. So they've got a little bit more sense in that area.
Amanda Smith: David, in this case - although generally in men's sport the biggest insult you can make to a player is that he's 'playing like a girl' - in this case are you trying to play more like the women, in terms of their skill level?
David Ward: Yes, in a lot of ways we do want to play like the women. I think the women are a lot sharper just in their change of directions, because they're probably a lot lighter than us. So we've got the strength behind us, we've sort of like blended our basketball into our netball a lot. Sometimes could be a bad thing, most of the time it's a good thing. But I think, yes, watching the women, they're just so much sharper. That's why a lot of the guys keep on training against the women as well, because it picks up our defensive moves, just our passes have got to be a lot crisper. Yes, so I think we might beat the women, but the women are still our base.
Amanda Smith: And that was David Ward, who plays netball for both Australia and New South Wales; and Tasmanian netballer, Scott Donaghie.
Australian men's netball holds an annual national competition at Easter-time; and the Australian team will be playing for their Trans-Tasman Cup in New Zealand in November.
That's The Sports Factor for now. I'm Amanda Smith. Thanks for your company, and I'll be back with you again next Friday.
The Sports Factor can be heard on Radio National, 8.30am Fridays (Repeated Friday evenings at 8.30pm).
© 1999 Australian Broadcasting Corporation