By Tamatha Harding / January 2023

At the Women in Sport breakfast, hosted by Women Sport Australia, at Marvel Stadium, I listened to Dr. Fiona McLachlan who outlined the fact that despite our efforts we really haven’t come that far when it comes to equity in sport. And it made me think, what are the brick walls that sport needs to shift and where can I find the dynamite?

2022 Women in Sport Breakfast

What is certain, is that the current programmatic approach to fixing the issues cannot solve the challenge alone. Putting women through leadership courses, creating Champions of Change and ‘come and try’ programs for underrepresented groups at sporting clubs, are a good start and provide sport with easy-to-report numbers, however, what they don’t tell us is what happens after the course is complete, the day is run, and the cameras are no longer rolling?

Sport does need education, and ways to connect with new and emerging communities and for leaders to use their privilege to give others a seat at the table, but we tend to stop there. What I believe we need is for the industry to take the next step and ensure that the culture of our sports is one of inclusion and that everyone can feel like they belong. Until sports do that, we will always be scratching the surface, as a sense of belonging is where true inclusion lies.

Sports need to review their existing systems and structures that underpin the delivery of sport. We need to understand what it feels like to be part (or not part) of a sport and how to address the barriers to change the culture of what people walk into so we are truly representative of society. This can only happen if representatives from all walks of life are engaged in the process of change and are empowered to make decisions. Sport needs to co-design its responses and adopt the guiding principle of ‘not about me, without me’ to involve those that we are trying to engage.

The balance of power is starting to shift through the development of policies such as Change Our Game’s “Fair Access Policy Roadmap”[1], which addresses the issue of equitable access to sporting amenities for all. However, policies alone are not enough. The industry needs to have a no tolerance approach, like we do with child safeguarding, and give the sports and the people that run them the support, resources and education to change the systems, frameworks, structures and ultimately culture to support inclusion and make no excuses for those that don’t - accountability is key.

The personal challenge for each of us involved in sport is to look at ourselves in the mirror and ask: ‘Are we truly inclusive in all aspects of what we do, both on and off the field, and at all levels?’ If the answer is ‘I don’t know, no or maybe not always’, we need to determine how important it is to us and what are we willing to do to make this happen. Realistically, true change may mean that for some of us, our time is up and it’s time to pass the baton so sport doesn’t look like it does now in 10 years’ time.

With policies that foster a culture of true inclusion, and a personal commitment from every person involved in sports to wholeheartedly get on board, we might just find the dynamite we need to shift the brick walls currently blocking our way.


About the Author: Tamatha Harding is Head of Tennis Delivery at Tennis Victoria and is on the board of Women Sport Australia. She is also a Consultant in Strategy and Project Planning, with more than 25 years of experience in the sport industry to inform programming, development and strategic projects for sporting and non-sporting organisations.

In her time with Tennis Victoria, Tamatha has worked in a variety of roles, including Inclusion Lead, Project Leader of Female Participation, Special Projects Lead, Executive Manager of Community Tennis, and interim CEO.

From 2017-21, Tamatha sat on the Darebin Women’s Advisory Committee, helping to advise Council on gendered issues and barriers to equality for women of diverse backgrounds. From 2008-12 Tamatha was a member of the Women’s Sport Advisory Group, which was set up by VicSport and Sport Recreation Victoria to represent women in sport and increase female participation.