How One Little Change Would Make One Big Difference for Women in Sport

While equal pay and television broadcast deals are the most discussed barriers to gender equality in sport, there’s a third that remains largely silent – language. And that’s where Australian sport’s biggest sexism issue lies.

Think about it. Why do women play in the W-League, but men play in the A-League rather than the ‘M-League’. Why have we just tacked on the word ‘women’s’ to the Big Bash League and National Basketball League?

Our naming conventions alone are inherently sexist, particularly for sports in which the men’s competitions were established first.

Our naming conventions alone are inherently sexist, particularly for sports in which the men’s competitions were established first.

The ‘Brisbane Roar Women’ bear their gender in their moniker, unlike the men, who are simply known as the ‘Brisbane Roar’. Adelaide United calls its W-League team ‘the Lady Reds’. The names alone automatically make the female teams subsidiaries of the clubs, second-class sporting citizens. Surely giving them their own mascot, even if it is related – the Brisbane Leopards or the Brisbane Jaguars – would put them on a more even level.

There’s also the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) and the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA). It may be unconscious, but merely adding the word ‘women’s’ or ‘ladies’ to the head of the name of the men’s competition is sexist.

To be clear, I’m not taking issue with the words ‘women’s’ and ‘ladies’, but rather the absence of the word ‘men’s’.

And I’m proposing a small, but hugely symbolic tweak. The men’s competitions need to be titled the Men’s Big Bash League (MBBL), Men’s National Basketball League (MNBL) and Men’s Professional Golf Association (MPGA). It’s not a massive change, but it removes the implication the women’s competitions are an afterthought.

There are circumstances where the reverse applies, for example the Australian Men’s and Mixed Netball Association. For the language of sport to be truly equal across the sexes, this too would need be addressed.

I’m proposing a small, but hugely symbolic tweak.

On a vernacular level, swimming already differentiates evenly between the sexes. We talk about the men’s 100 metres breaststroke, and the women’s 50m freestyle. It just flows, and there is no reason the same can’t be applied in a blanket approach to all sports worldwide.

Yes, it will require changes to team and competition names that are steeped in history. But if we want to shape the future, we need to be brave enough to break the conventions of our past.

Language is our most powerful tool. Only when we are using the same language to talk about women’s and men’s sports will there be any chance of shifting attitudes towards genuine gender equality.

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