Michelle_Payne

In a flash of colourful silks and a stampede of hooves, the race that stops a nation is over for another year. Like the years before, the 2015 Melbourne Cup brought fashion and glamour galore to Flemington race course. However, this year’s cup also brought with it a heightened level of drama, when it was announced the winning jockey Michelle Payne, had become the first female jockey in history to win the Melbourne Cup.

Payne was considered some what of an underdog prior to the race, with odds on her horse – Prince of Penzance- reaching the 101/1 mark. Yet in a great display of skill and determination Payne pushed the six-year-old horse through a narrow gap in the straight and surged ahead of Irish stayer Max Dynamite, for the victory. This not only made Payne the first female victor of the Melbourne cup, but also made Prince of Penzance the fourth horse in history to win the race at a $101 chance.

In a post race interview Payne commented on the significance her gender played in winning the race and the difficulty in participating in such a male dominated sport.

“It’s such a chauvinistic sport,” Payne said. “A lot of the owners wanted to kick me off. Everyone else can get stuffed [who] think women aren’t good enough.”

Indeed, this year’s Melbourne Cup was only the fourth time ever for a female jockey to be embraced and permitted to ride in the race.

“I would like to say that, you know, it’s a very male-dominated sport and people think we are not strong enough and all of the rest of it … you know what? It’s not all about strength, there is so much more involved, getting the horse into a rhythm, getting the horse to try for you, it’s being patient.

I’m so glad to win Melbourne Cup and, hopefully, it will help female jockeys from now on to get more of a go. Because, I believe that we sort of don’t get enough of a go and hopefully this will help.” Payne declared in front of the cameras.

In her speech Payne highlights a crucial point. Traditionally, athleticism has not been the key trait women have been recognised for in regards to the cup. The focus for women has always been on the ‘fashions on the field’ with as much press coverage on the best outfits of the day as there is on the winning horse, trainer and jockey (always male till this point). However this year’s Melbourne Cup has shown that if one woman can provide such drama and skill to a degree that can catch the imagination of an entire nation, then imagine what would happen if every other female athlete had the same exposure, support and fanfare. This needn’t be a one-off. Payne believes women “don’t get enough of a go” in horse racing. But it’s not just horse racing.

Australia’s women’s cricket, football and basketball teams are just as successful as their male colleagues, but few would know. Their games are rarely covered on free-to-air tv and never in prime time slots. In reality, the wives and girlfriends of the male cricket and football teams probably get more coverage than both the women’s teams. Jane McGrath, 1st wife of former fast bowler Glenn McGrath, was frequently commended by the media for her charity work for breast cancer, while no one could forget Lara Bingle; former cricket captain Michael Clark’s then girlfriend, who’s antics were followed religiously by tabloids. On the flip side, many would struggle to recall any names of the players of our Australian female cricket team, despite their ashes win this year.

Netball’s ANZ Championship, the trans-Tasman league featuring the best teams in Australia and New Zealand, is one of the rare women’s sports on TV, and is only broadcast by SBS and Foxtel. Unlike the men’s sports, which earn hundreds of millions of dollars in TV rights, netball has to pay for the production of its own coverage.

The reasons for this variance in coverage of both male and female sport have been regularly debated. Two key arguments which have arisen to explain it, are that women’s sport doesn’t yield profitable returns and that it doesn’t generate the same interest as male sport.

However, these arguments was shot dead when 50 million people tuned in to watch Australia’s most dominant cricket team, the women’s team, win the 2013 World Cup in India. It was also shot down when SBS recorded a 48 per cent audience jump, when it adjusted the broadcasting time of a Matildas World Cup quarter final game to a ‘prime’ time slot. This year alone, we’ve seen numerous high-quality achievements by Australia’s female athletes. The netball team, the Diamonds, triumphed for the third time in a row in this year’s World Cup. The basketball team, the Opals, this summer qualified for next year’s Olympics. The cricket team, the Southern Stars, trounced arch rivals England in the Ashes (unlike their male counterparts), and are sitting pretty atop the one-day world rankings.

While Payne’s Melbourne cup win is a victory in itself, it is also an important reminder that there are female athletes throughout Australia making headway in their chosen sporting profession and deserving a ‘fair go’ by the media and sporting corporations. It highlights a need for change, for investment and for belief in women’s sport.

To find out more on Australia’s sporting culture and the lack of investment in women’s sport, read ABC journalist, Stephanie Chalkley-Rhoden’s report below:

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-04-12/decline-of-women-sports-coverage-in-australia-a-tragedy/6359786