Heather Roy

12 May 2018

A Stuff article by Dana Johannsen published yesterday – ‘Give my ‘daughter’ a game’ : Are there really lots of opportunities for girls in sport? – struck a chord with me. Dana tried to find opportunities for her hypothetical 11 year old daughter to play rugby, cricket and football in 10 cities around New Zealand. She was mostly unsuccessful in finding all girls teams for her ‘daughter’ to play in. Despite our elite female athletes having made significant gains in the past decade, we’ve still got a way to go in providing opportunities for our girls to participate in many sports at junior levels.

The article took me back to when my (real) daughter was 11 years old and her attempts at playing two sports she was passionate about, football and cricket. Although I agree that clubs and schools should do their best to provide opportunities for girls and boys, sometimes the problems lie much closer to home.

Parents too must accept responsibility and not deny our girls the opportunities they should have. Here are some examples of particularly poor parental behaviour.

The football experience: at age 11 our local football club starting holding grading trials. We dutifully turned up at the trials – kids on the field and parents on the sidelines. Many Mums and Dads shouted not encouragement, but loud coaching instructions to their children. I was embarrassed that my daughter would think I was one of them, so sat out most of the game in the car. A few days later we got a phone call from the club age-grade co-ordinator, who apologetically asked if we minded our daughter playing in a team with all six girls wanting to play at that age level – not the top team. Of course we didn’t mind, our daughter just wanted to play football and we were puzzled by the request. It transpired there had been a mutiny by the parents of some of the boys. If their sons were going to have to play with girls in the team, they’d be moving to another club! The boys whose parents hadn’t complained were put in the team with the girls. It was a great team, ably coached by the Dad of one of the girls. Both teams ended up being in the same grade and our team played the boys team twice that season. Justice is sweet and our team won both times. It turned out that the girls were all very good players.

That same season there was another incident that was quite astonishing. Our mixed team was playing a team of boys from another club. We were doing pretty well, thanks in part to the skills of several of the girls. By half time the parents of the other side had become agitated that their boys were losing. The Dads were shouting instructions on how to play better but several mothers began taunting their boys with comments such as “get a move on you boys – stop letting a bunch of silly girls beat you”. Their actions were rude, sexist and degrading to their sons and the girls in the opposing team.

Sadly these are not isolated occurrences. It is very hard to make progress when the very people who should be setting an example are those denigrating the value of female participation.

I’m not the world’s greatest feminist. I don’t believe in affirmative action or quotas. I don’t think women should get jobs or other roles just because they are female, to boost the gender balance. But I do believe in equal opportunity including in the sporting arena.  Definitely more work to do yet.