Sport’s changing face

EQUALITY: Talia Martin wins the 2016 Stawell Gift women's final over 120-metres earning equal prizemoney with the men's winner. Pictures: Getty Images

EQUALITY: Talia Martin wins the 2016 Stawell Gift women's final over 120-metres earning equal prizemoney with the men's winner. Pictures: Getty Images

Sometimes in sport it’s a bit risky to say something will never happen.

Five years ago, no-one would have actually expected that the men’s and women’s gifts at the Stawell Easter Carnival would have equal prizemoney – if only because there were twice as many males running and their gift had one hundred years more history.

The IOC is championing equality of the genders and events such as a mixed pairs events in shooting and synchronised swimming.

The IOC is championing equality of the genders and events such as a mixed pairs events in shooting and synchronised swimming.

But the planets aligned unexpectedly and in 2015 from nowhere it came to fruition. The prize pool for the women’s race increased six-fold from the previous year and the winner’s cheque upped from $4000 to $40,000.

It happened because Australia Post having sponsored the Carnival for two decades decided to relinquish the naming rights, yet still wanted to retain a connection with the iconic weekend.

Its Tasmanian-based national manager for diversity and inclusion, Lauren Gorringe just happened to be an athlete – a former Australian junior representative and a keen participant in carnival running.

She was keen to explore the previously unthinkable.

Now in the third year of equality, there is a very stark and unmistakeable consequence. Whilst the number of men’s heats has plateaued at 22, less than half the figure of the event’s heyday – the women now have 17 and rising.

If anyone was looking for a justification for such a radical decision, it’s right there. A century less of history matters little in determining who puts their name on the entry list nowadays.

With all the excitement surrounding the new environments for women’s sport in previously male dominated scenarios, here is a work in progress with measureable results.

29 years on from the unimaginable of a women’s gift at Stawell, there’s parity in prize and a rapidly closing gap on participation.

Sometimes it just needs someone to take a punt.

Perhaps one day women will even end up playing tennis over five sets.

As this column observed last week, the International Olympic Committee is leaving way less to chance in this regard.

As recently as 1980 the longest race for women at the Olympics was 1500 metres. After the actions of outrageous risk takers such as Australian Adrienne Beames and the controversial American Kathy Switzer, the 3000m and marathon for women were simultaneously added to the program for Los Angeles four years later, along with the 400m hurdles.

But it still left as unthinkable that women might race walk, triple jump, pole vault or throw the hammer – all events which are now firmly entrenched on the program but were then at least a decade away from even being considered.

Not to mention other inconceivables such as women’s boxing or wrestling.

Fast forward to 2017 and the IOC, now ever so conscious of its social responsibilities and commercial relevance are not only demanding that member sports present programs based on equality of the genders, but contemplating such events as a mixed pairs events in shooting and synchronised swimming.

It’s a graphic reminder to sporting bodies that to simply say no, is no longer acceptable – at least without a very good reason.

And that’s not because there should be change for change’s sake but for a whole stack of reasons including what’s right, what’s commercially sound, what will grow participation levels or simply make the sport more interesting.

Making life easier for officials and easier to comprehend for those watching on are not bad reasons either. The Council of the IAAF this week approved a swathe of changes to the rules of athletics that will do both.

Included is the merging of the acceleration and takeover zones for relays into a single 30m zone for the baton change. When New Zealand Athletics first proposed the idea eight years ago, the Kiwis were laughed at.

Now it’s seen as a smart concept, simplifying the rules and requiring way less judges to monitor – without really affecting the skill and integrity of the event.

Another unthinkable now a reality.