Want to know the biggest winner in Australian sport this year?
It’s not the Australian cricket team, despite the fact they’re on track for another home-soil whitewash in the Ashes. Nope, they pale in comparison.
It’s not the rugby league team, despite winning their second straight Rugby League World Cup. Impressive, but not the best.
It’s not even our rugby union team, who finally beat the All Blacks after seven-straight losses.
It’s our women.
For years, women’s sport was viewed as the ugly stepsister of men’s sport. People wouldn’t bother watching women compete unless it was the Olympics.
Chances are if you weren’t an Olympic quality swimmer or a top-flight netballer, the average Australian sports fan wouldn’t know who you were.
There were exceptions to the rule of course. Karrie Webb was a household name throughout the 1990s and 2000s, and there are a number of tennis players that have made a name for themselves over the years.
And who could forget the magical Cathy Freeman moment at the 2000 Olympics.
It wasn’t that there was a lack of female sporting heroes, it was just a lot harder for them to get to that level in the public eye.
For men, you pretty much just had to play in one of the two biggest sporting codes to become an instant household name. Women would have to prove themselves on a world stage before they received the same accolades.
Thankfully that’s changing; in fact, 2017 could be viewed as one of the biggest years for women’s sport in Australia.
We started the year with the first season of the AFLW, and it kicked off the AFL season with a bang.
The opening match of the season between traditional rivals Carlton and Collingwood was held at Carlton’s traditional home ground, Princes Park. More than 24,000 fans attended the match, with a further 2000 people barred from entry.
Not to be outdone by the enemy code, rugby league also had a bumper year for women.
Earlier this month the Jillaroos copied their male counterparts in winning their second straight Rugby League World Cup. That’s not even the most exciting part of the year though.
Shortly after the world cup triumph, the NRL announced the formation of a women’s competition for the 2018 season.
The competition will include up to six NRL teams, and run during the NRL finals series as double-headers.
But possibly our biggest winners are the Matildas. They’ve not only won the Tournament of Nations in 2017 (beating the USA, Japan, and Brazil), but they’ve reached an all-time high ranking of number four in the world.
They’re also listed as the favourites for next year’s Asian Cup, and are expected to be among the favourites for the 2019 World Cup in France.
Despite all this success, I don’t think it’s the athletes that are the biggest winner’s out of women’s sports renaissance in 2017. I think it’s the young girls playing Auskick, taking on the boys at junior levels of rugby, or kicking a soccer ball around the playground.
For the first time ever, we can tell our daughters that a professional footy career is a viable option.
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