Female athletes deserve more recognition

If Ellyse Perry were male, he'd be the toast of the nation - a sporting superstar.

Imagine if an Australian male cricketer had spearheaded Australia to victory in a World Cup final, taking 3-19 to tear apart the opposing team's top order, after knocking up a quick-fire 25 not out at the end of the Australian innings.

And imagine if that same sportsman had represented the Socceroos at the football World Cup just 18 months earlier.

Imagine, further, if that man had represented his country at senior level in both football and cricket by the age of 16.

That sportsman would be arguably the most recognisable face in Australia - gracing newspaper front pages, television news broadcasts and magazine covers on a weekly basis.

His management team would be demanding - and getting - six- and perhaps even seven-figure sums for product endorsements, and $10,000-plus a pop for personal appearances.

Dual international Ellyse Perry did all that and more in the women's World Cup final a week ago in Mumbai, India, hitting quick runs then demolishing the West Indies top order to spearhead Australia's victory in the Women's World Cup final.

Her 25 not out helped Australia to an imposing total of 7-259 and her three top-order scalps tore the heart out of the West Indies team, which folded for 145 in its runs chase.

What's more, she ignored a serious ankle injury that had forced her to miss the previous three games.

Last week, Ellyse slipped quietly back into Australia, facing an operation on her injured ankle.

In 2011 she came to Wollongong to play in the University of Wollongong's Stumping Serious Diseases fund-raising cricket match, where she was a picture of shy humility (despite her national- team status) - and awestruck to meet the great Glenn McGrath and Adam Gilchrist.

(McGrath, for his part, was mightily impressed by Ellyse's bowling action, which he said was close to perfect).

I have no idea what endorsements, if any, Ellyse has.

She has had a sports hosting job on a football show on Channel One HD, but I've never seen her endorsing any products.

And there wouldn't be much money in women's cricket or football in Australia, so I'm willing to bet she hasn't made much of a living from her sporting prowess.

She should be a national icon, but Aussies tend to reserve their adulation for male athletes (and the occasional high-flying female swimmer or tennis player).

To be fair, Australian media outlets did give the Australian women team's victory generous and widespread coverage.

One headline even described Ellyse as Australia's greatest all-rounder, comparing her inspired effort, despite requiring pain-killing injections, rather favourably with a certain injury-prone all-rounder in the Australian men's cricket team.

But the women still didn't get the front- and back-page treatment a men's World Cup victory would have received.

If in the Illawarra we're a little fairer to our female sports stars, Australians are very sexist when it comes to sporting recognition - lauding mediocre males and ignoring exceptional females.

It's time we grew up.

Nick Hartgerink is a former Mercury editor who now runs his own media consultancy. The University of Wollongong is a client.


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