Aotearoa New Zealand has an enviable international reputation for community sport participation. When I first moved here, I’d never heard of ‘Saturday sport’; I now see it as key to grassroots participation.

Sporting organisations are working to increase people’s participation post-school and in mid-life. My interest is in community sport for older athletes, and I’m known as an advocate for masters rowing. And so, I was drawn to the Authentic Leadership and Diversity in the World of Sport event, hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce and held at Auckland University of Technology. It brought together two sport leaders: Phaidra Knight, a former international athlete, sports media talent, motivational speaker, lawyer and business entrepreneur; and Julie Paterson, chief executive at Tennis NZ and co-founder and chair of Women in Sport Aotearoa. The panel was moderated by Melodie Robertson, sports journalist and former athlete with the Black Ferns.

Opening the event, chair of the AmCham Women’s Committee Sarah Weersing noted that it is 50 years since the US government enacted Title IX – the landmark law that banned discrimination on the basis of sex in Federal-funded education programmes. This led to a lot of funding being redistributed to minor sports in order to balance the spend on gridiron football. Women’s rowing remains a major beneficiary. Sarah quoted a study of female executives, by accounting firm EY, which found that 94% of female business leaders play sport. The life benefits of learning confidence, passion, resilience time management, goal- and team-orientation from sport are evident.

Melody Robertson described how her media colleagues are working on ‘market shaping’, as sport leaders, journalists and TV schedulers collaborate to change the hegemony of female sport news coverage – raising it above the 19% we have today.

Our challenge as sport leaders is to prove the linkages between sport and life skills and the value of being involved in sport.

Some high-profile issues, such as equal pay for sports professionals, are not easy to achieve. Many things affect pay – from appearance fees to sponsorships and TV rights. The US soccer teams gained pay equity in May 2022, and in July 2022 New Zealand Cricket announced equal match fees. I learned that the White Ferns (22nd in the world) currently don’t have a title sponsor. New Zealand is co-hosting their World Cup in 2023. How big a brand risk is it to take up this sponsorship?

Some pay equity movements began with the athletes (e.g. US Soccer) and others were started by club owners (e.g. Angel City FC), but I have been most impressed when sponsors initiated the change (e.g. The Newton Boat Race). Phaedra Knight confirmed that entropy is the major force in this fight, saying, ‘If there isn’t a will to do it, people will find ways of not doing it.’

Melody Robertson described how her media colleagues are working on ‘market shaping’, as sport leaders, journalists and TV schedulers collaborate to change the hegemony of female sport news coverage – raising it above the 19% we have today. She noted that Sky TV has raised its female sport coverage ‘exponentially’ in the past five years.

Julie Paterson believes sport makes changes that flow through to society, and small, proactive differences get noticed and are easy for clubs to set up. However, she showcased few successes, and failed to share the practical steps and learnings that were taken before these successes were made visible. Without understanding the preconditions for success, how can we enable other sports to emulate this?

At the event I met Lindsay Newcastle of Howick Pakuranga Cricket Club, who had brought along four members of the club. This is the type of leadership that impresses me – exposing new coaches to the broader issues in female sport and taking ideas back into the club for action. I wish more grassroots club sports had been represented in the room.

Three practical actions for sport diversity and inclusion

1

Create a Caught- Short Kit – many women leave a sports event if they get their period. Supplying free pads and tampons in the changing room could keep them at the club today.

2

Ask your members for ideas about what they can contribute. This creates an avenue for many voices and more collaboration.

3

Seek older participants – many parents will come and try your sport if you set up a class, a training time and an organiser to focus on them. These athletes can often afford to pay, and you can cross-subsidise your youth teams.

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WRITTEN BY

Rebecca Caroe