Melbourne University Rugby Football Club's Women in Rugby Luncheon
A lot can happen in sport over twelve months and this has certainly been the case when we look back on the Change Our Game Champions program, now 12months old, and inaugural year of the Office for Women in Sport and Recreation, now entering its 9th month.
To discuss the year, we caught up with two individuals, both of whom, through their experiences, drive and tenacity, personify the description of ‘game changers’. Peggy O’Neal, who chaired the Inquiry into Women and Girls in Sport, and the inaugural Head of the Office for Women in Sport, Dr Bridie O’Donnell have both been key to the program’s establishment.
“A lot has happened in a relatively short period of time when you consider that in August of 2014 the idea of an inquiry was first brought to me and from a standing start” Peggy said,
“…A few years later, here we are with what seems to be a great program going forward.”
When we consider the enormous task the Change Our Game initiative is designed to achieve - generating systemic change, especially in a government environment is not an easy thing to do but through some great policy and working with some really committed stakeholders, we are already seeing a shift.
“Well it is. It was a commitment from the government to really make a difference in women and girls in sport and active recreation and without that, it couldn’t have gone ahead as quickly as it has and probably would not have happened at all.
“When the Inquiry started it was novel, no other state had really put that much effort into determining a future for women and girls in sport and active recreation and a real commitment to making a difference.” In May 2017, the State Government announced the implementation of the Office for Women in Sport and Recreation and the first important job was to appoint a leader, and along came Dr Bridie O’Donnell.
“Yes, what a dynamic force Bridie is.” Peggy said,
“A great appointment, and with a blended background involving public health and elite sport, she has hit the ground running”
Bridie O’Donnell was the perfect fit for the important role – a medical doctor who had most recently worked at the Epworth Hospital and former World Champion road cyclist, the practical and theoretical learnings she bought to the role were undisputable.
Part of the role of the Office for Women in Sport and Recreation was to identify how the State Government and sporting bodies could better govern women’s sport and active recreation and create opportunities for women and girls to take on leadership roles within the sector.
“It’s been a big 6 months for me and we have seen some really fantastic initiatives rolled out.” Bridie said,
“Some of those have been around workforce developments and supporting sports to look at how they can advance more women into roles of officials, administrators, coaches and board members. Others are centred around forming strategic partnerships such as the work we are doing with the Office of Prevention and Women’s Equality, and that’s to look at gender equality in sporting clubs.”
There is no doubt that we are starting to see a shift and the question that is asked of Bridie and her team regularly is around the speed in which these changes can be happening – simply, is change happening quickly enough?
“It is never going to happen quickly enough but I am impatient…” Bridie quipped,
“I think generational change has to occur. It’s like anything, it’s like changing our own personal behaviour, or quitting smoking or becoming more active – it takes time.”
“So when you think about the people who run sport, perhaps in a regional town in Victoria. They’ve held onto some ideas on the way things need to be done for a really long time and so it’s about educating those people, helping them understand why it’s important and also appreciating that you can’t make these drastic changes overnight but that willing people are everywhere, champions everywhere, and we want to work with them and support them as best we can. “
The Office for Women in Sport are leading a charge and 12 months in, the support and the commitment shown by both the state government and the broader sport and active recreation sector is encouraging,
“The next 12 months are going to be exciting, The government recently announced $144 million will be invested into facilities, $15 million alone will be invested in female friendly facilities and local governments will be able to apply on behalf of one or more sporting clubs to address the needs that have not been looked at for so long – change rooms, toilets, lighting, ground facilities, ensuring that the grounds are capable of taking multiple teams for longer periods of time.”
Cultural change is not possible without considerable financial backing to ensure every level of the community is engaged.
“This government has been steadfast in their commitment and it’s amazing to see that already over 100 facilities have been funded and with that budget allocation, so many more will follow” Bridie added.
The record investment into sport and the appetite for change is at an all-time high. The sector is experiencing a wave of support and through the work delivered by the Office for Women in Sport and Recreation and the Change Our Game initiative the message is very clear – the time is now,
“You have to make a conscious decision that you want your culture to support people to do their best, and while you want women to in involved in various organisations, you also have to have a supportive culture that will assist them fulfil their potential.” Peggy said.
Another initiative driven by the State Government, under the Change Our Game initiative, is the introduction of board quotas.
To mandate gender balance and good governance principles, the requirement is that all state funded sport and recreational associations (SSA’s) will have a minimum of 40% representation by women on their boards.
Research shows that increased gender diversity on boards leads to improved organisational performance. The introduction of mandatory quotas is a push to bring about long term cultural change for the Victorian sport and recreation sector.
This is no doubt a big task and one that requires a great deal of consultation and facilitation however, Bridie is confident sports will achieve this change.
“We know the ‘why’ it is now about the ‘how’. My office, along with other leaders in the sector such as Vicsport and VicHealth are working through this now.”
It is twelve months into the life of the OWSR and the Change Our Game initiative and it is now time for Peggy O’Neal to say farewell. After overseeing the Inquiry and the set-up of the office, it’s the right time to handover Peggy said.
“I’m so pleased it (the initiative) has found its feet so early and, as I said, because of the dedication and commitment of Bridie and from the state sporting organisations, I think my job here is done”