Paula Ward Women at the Olympics Interview
Women competing in sport are "impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic and incorrect". These are the words of Pierre de Coubertin, the founder and organiser of the first Modern Olympics in 1896 and the result was no woman was permitted to compete.
We have come a long way since then but it has been slow progress. It has taken 116 years to see women competing in all Olympic sports. It is only this year at the London Olympic Games with the inclusion of women's boxing that we will have no remaining sports that do not enable the participation of women.
It's has been a long road
The Ancient Olympic Games were the exclusive domain of men. Married women were not permitted to attend although, strangely, prostitutes and virgins were able to spectate. The only way a woman was able to officially take part was to enter a horse in an equestrian event. As the owner of the horse, the woman would be credited with the victory. Although, it was most likely she did not attend the actual event and she certainly did not participate as a rider. Kynisca, a Spartan princess was the first woman to achieve this feat when her horse won a chariot race.
Although unable to compete in the first modern Olympics, a Greek woman ran unofficially in the marathon. Not allowed to compete with the men, on the following day she ran the same course on her own. She was not permitted access to the arena for the final lap so instead ran around the outside of the stadium. Afterwards, officials could not recall her name - Stamata Revithi - so they labeled her 'Melpomene' the Greek muse of tragedy. It is indeed a misfortune that when they looked at her all they could see was tragedy and not her extraordinary feat.
The Paris Games in 1900 was the first time women were able to directly compete with the inclusion of women's events in lawn tennis and golf. Records also show there was at least one woman competing in a team sailing event, three French women competing in croquet and a woman participating in a ballooning team.
Women's boxing was included in 1904 as a demonstration sport although it will only be this year that it becomes a competitive inclusion.
The involvement of women in swimming was sanctioned in 1912 and the first gold medal was won by Australian, Sarah 'Fanny' Durack in the 100m freestyle. Interestingly, women from America were not included in these initial swimming events due to a uniform requirement for all women to wear long skirts when competing.
In the same year, 1912, a 15-year-old British schoolgirl entered the modern pentathlon only to have her entry rejected. It took until 2000 for the first modern pentathlon for women to be contested.
Athletics and gymnastics debuted at the 1928 Olympics. However, so many women collapsed at the end of the 800m track event that this race was then banned until 1960.
Gender verification testing had been routine for all athletes for many years, when in 1976, the only female competitor not to have to submit to the test was Princess Anne. Although a member of the UK equestrian team, as the daughter of Queen Elizabeth II such a test was seen as inappropriate.
In 1981 the first woman was co-opted as a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). It took until 1990 for a woman to be elected to their Executive Board - Flor Isava Fonseca. Thirty years of committee participation by women has resulted in 19 women being active IOC members (out of 110) with four as honorary members.
The Sydney 2000 Olympics saw the introduction of women's weightlifting.
Today, there are only two Olympic sports where men and women compete directly against each other - equestrian and sailing - although in sailing it is now only in one event. In addition, tennis and badminton have mixed double events.
Equality in the available sports is one thing, but in many countries women do not have an equal right to participate in sport or the opportunity to participate in the Olympic Games. Prior to this year's Olympic Games, three Muslim countries have never before sent a female athlete. They are Qatar, Brunei and Saudi Arabia. All three countries are reported to be planning to send female athletes to London. However, in early April it seems less likely that the Saudi women will be competing after the Saudi Olympic Committee President, Prince Nawaf Bin-Faisal announced he did "not approve" of sending female athletes to London. The IOC will be considering a formal proposal scheduled to be submitted to the IOC executive board meeting on 23-25 May to confirm the entry of the Saudi women. Time will tell.
Forty years ago in Munich there were 1,058 female athletes participating in the games, which represented only 14% of all athletes. This has increased substantially to a participation rate of 42% at the Beijing Olympics four years ago where there were 4,746 women of the 11,196 athletes.
It is evident that women's inclusion in sport at an elite level has been contentious, long-fought and ongoing. It mirrors the same challenges corporate women face in entering our boardrooms, executive ranks and non-traditional roles. It is through persistence, determination and resilience that gender equality has any chance of being a reality.
Pierre de Coubertin's words no longer resonate with the wider community as we now see women in elite sport as inspirational role models, a high water mark for health and fitness and a source of admiration. www.knowthegame.com.au
Interview with Paula WardQuestion:
Can you explain what Know the Game is?Paula Ward
: Know the Game is a consulting firm that focuses on educating people about Australian sports. The purpose is for people that haven't grown up playing or watching Australian sports and now find themselves in a work or social situation where sports is discussed and they can learn enough information from Know the Game to be able to feel comfortable to be included in conversations about sport or even go to the game and follow what is happening. Question:
What inspired you to begin Know the Game?Paula Ward
: Know the Game was about finding something that would sustain me, career wise, for the long term and I have a passion around sport so it was about finding a sustainable business that would hold my interest and blended my corporate skills with sport. Question:
What's a typical day like for you at Know the Game?Paula Ward
: No such thing as a typical day! Today I am jumping on a plane to head to the Sunshine Coast to speak at a sponsor dinner in relation to a golf tournament. My days consist of running a workshop, usually through lunchtime, at a women's network or something like that. More recently I did some evening sessions for the American Society of Sydney teaching them about Australian football codes (AFL, Rugby and League) because they only knew NFL, baseball and basketball. Question:
Why do you believe sport is such a big thing in Australia?Paula Ward
: Sport is the Australian culture and I think it has a lot to do with the weather; we want to be outdoors, most of the time as we have an active lifestyle and sport is a major part of that which in term pervades the workplace. People talk about sport because it's something they are participating in or spending time watching. Question:
How has Know the Game helped women, so far?Paula Ward
: Often it depends on the background and why they are coming to Know the Game. I have had an Irish woman who came to a Melbourne workshop to learn about AFL because she didn't know about AFL and Melbourne is slightly obsessed with AFL (laughs) and from a work perspective she felt as if she really did need to understand it.
I had a fashion designer come along to a Sydney workshop because she was interested in mixing with the boys socially from work and she found that she couldn't be included in conversations about sport and saw Know the Game as opening up the dating scene for her.
I had a woman from a law firm come along as her Kiwi husband was really into his Rugby Union and the only time she would ask about the sport was when he was trying to watch it and he found that annoying. She was going to Rugby Union games but had no idea what was going on and she came along to learn so she could actually understand the game.
The other side for women aside from the private/public workshops are for organisations. I have run workshops for BankWest and the Australian Institute of Taxation around leadership and how to help your career using sporting analogies and parallels between sport and career to work on leadership skills. I have also used sport in the context of networking with clients and colleagues including entertaining clients in a corporate sporting box. The workshops teach a blend of mixing sport and business whether it is a direct mix or taking lessons from the sport field and applying it to the business or career. Question:
What has been your biggest challenge since starting Know the Game?Paula Ward
: As a small business the start-up and lead times are generally longer than you anticipate, everyone will tell you that when starting a business but until you do it, it is difficult to get a handle on. I learnt how multi-faceted you need to be to get a small business up and running and that it builds momentum when you need it to so you can be constantly reassessing the business and help it grow.Question:
How much further do we need to go to have equality in the sports world?Paula Ward
: I think there is still a way to go because usually when people talk about Aussie legends from a sporting perspective the first names they will mention are male and I think that we need to get to a point where there is a blend of male and female names. People will certainly mention Layne Beachley, Sam Stosur, Libby Trickett but I feel for a woman to be named it's usually because it's top of mind that the Olympics are coming up or we've just had the Layne Beachley Classic which has been on the news and it is tied to the media. When people stand alone, without media context around them they're more likely to sight a male team or male player. I think the media have a large role in being able to promote women and a fantastic initiative is Channel 10 broadcasting Women's Netball in primetime and that has made an impact. I have seen articles pop up where guys have said "I got dragged along to the netball, for the first time, and it's actually fantastic!"
I think that the media has a big part to play in promoting women in sport which in turn will get a higher game day audience or even more sponsors involved and the circle starts to move with a higher profile and an even blend between male and female sports. Question:
Do you find your work is state specific?Paula Ward
: Know the Game is definitely state specific however interestingly I am teaching the opposite to what is primarily played in the state. For example I run a lot of AFL sessions in Melbourne but I am increasingly running Rugby Union sessions as Melbourne now has the Melbourne Rebels and people don't know Rugby Union and want to learn it before going to a game. Sometimes you leave the state where the sport is popular to be able to run the workshop.
It is definitely state orientated but sometimes the reverse to what you expect. I run a lot of AFL workshops in Sydney and I think that is because it's not as imbedded as Rugby League or Rugby Union.
Interview by Brooke Hunter