Ladies who League: A letter to the future
My dearest Khloe,
Three years ago, your mother asked me to be your godmother. It was one of the proudest moments of my life. You were a perfect, tiny little human and to be asked to play a role in guiding you through this messy, chaotic and beautiful thing called life was a blessing.
When I accepted a role as your godmother I wanted nothing more than for you to grow up having every single opportunity open and available to you. I wanted to always be there to remind you that you could be strong. That you could be bright. That you could be bubbly and independent and sassy and fierce. I wanted you to have the world at your feet.
Over the last three years I have watched you grow and develop into a curious, independent and delightful three-year-old.
As a woman that is much older than you, it’s important for me to tell you that our gender has come a long way, but we still have a very long way to go. We should celebrate how far we have come, but recognise that we do not live in a gender equal world.
But this week, during Women in League round I thought I would write you a letter telling you about some of the women involved in rugby league that are putting themselves forward and acting as advocates and trailblazers for the next generation – you. These women inspire me every day and remind me that the rugby league family is one which is open to everyone.
It’s a family that has always made me feel welcome and I hope that if you decide to join that family in the future, that the only question you will need to answer is just how you want to be involved.
When thinking about if and how you want to be involved, I hope you can take inspiration from some of these women.
Let’s start with Ruan Sims – current captain of the Australian Jillaroos who will lead a team of talented women in the Rugby League World Cup at the end of the year. Ruan persisted with rugby league at a time when very few people knew who the Jillaroos were, at a time where they had very little support and at a time where there were significant costs involved with playing footy.
She played because she loved it and to this day, does this same. Now, with the support of the NRL, NSWRL and QRL and organisations like Harvey Norman, the Australian Jillaroos are recognised and celebrated and Ruan can stand alongside her teammates like Maddie Studdon, Kezie Apps, Sammy Bremner and Karina Brown and watch the pathways continue to develop for the next generation of Jillaroos.
Maybe playing rugby league won’t be your thing and you’ll feel more at home with a whistle around your neck. You can take inspiration from a woman like Kasey Badger who began refereeing because she was told she couldn’t play footy anymore and she decided she still wanted to be involved in footy. By the time you become a teenager, I’m confident that either Kasey Badger or Belinda Sleeman will have officiated a first grade NRL match and plenty of other women will have followed in their footsteps.
If I’m lucky, you’ll grow up being a little bit like me and be interested in the power of words. There is no traditionally male dominated sport that gives women the same opportunities that rugby league does in the media. Women like Yvonne Sampson, Hannah Hollis, Lara Pitt, Erin Molan and Renee Gartner are front and central to our broadcast and coverage. But we can’t forget women like Debbie Spillane, Jacqueline Magnay and Margie McDonald who came before them and who worked so hard to make it OK for a woman to be a sports journalist and to turn up and just do her job.
I will always encourage you to pursue projects with purpose, so perhaps you will aspire to be like Helen Wood-Grant who sits on the board of the Men of League Foundation and works with her fellow board members to care for members of the rugby league community who have fallen on hard times.
And of course, should you choose to be involved in rugby league as an administrator, there is a place for you too whether that be as a CEO like Raelene Castle, as a Commissioner like Cathy Harris or as a board member like Marina Go, Rebecca Frizelle, Katie Brassil or Vicki Leaver.
Maybe by the time you become a teenager, I’ll be able to share stories with you about the first female coach.
Khloe, this Women in League Round I want you to remember these women that I’ve mentioned who prove that their gender is not a barrier to being involved in our game.
But the most important woman that I want you to remember is your mother Christy who plays such an active role in your brother Mikyah’s football. I’ve seen her take on team manager roles. I’ve seen her work the canteen. I’ve seen her cut up oranges. I’ve seen her cheering on the sidelines and most difficult of all, I’ve seen her wash Mikyah’s stinky socks.
For rugby league to prosper everyone’s role needs to be acknowledged as worthwhile and important and this Women in League Round, I want you to know that it’s worth celebrating all the women involved in our game – from the grass roots to the boardroom.
Happy Women in League Round, my dearest Khloe. I hope that in the near future you’ll also find a place in the rugby league family and that you are made to feel as welcome as I have been. I also hope you continue to draw inspiration from the women that have come before you and become an inspiration for those women yet to come.
With love from your godmother