I was lucky growing up a few minutes walk from Old Trafford Football and Cricket Ground in Manchester. I got to see the likes of Charlton, Law and Best and later Schmeichel and Cantona of Manchester United and then in the summer have the joy of seeing great cricketers like Clive Lloyd, Bumble and Peter Lever and even the great Lillee and Thompson. I even got to see Mike Whitney play for Australia in the Ashes. (Little did I know that years later we would become mates.)
Cricket, football and sport in general has moved forward in leaps and bounds since those days. Progress in media and broadcast providing greater accessibility and entertainment to the masses; significant improvements in stadium safety and comfort; improvements in the fitness of the athletes; effective changes in rules and; support from huge corporations bringing significant dollars into the game.
This summer in Australia, the Big Bash League (BBL) has once again been an extraordinary success. Cricket, a sport typically known for history, tradition and old-fashioned values has responded to a changing customer base. Here in Australia, an integrated strategy led by Cricket Australia and the States supported by some good sponsors; exciting national and international players and a committed national broadcaster has brought in the crowds both in the stadiums and at home. Congratulations to all and let?s hope the wonderful progress is made year on year.
However, the real opportunity for major change; for a fundamental shift in sport that is necessary and imperative is in the area of sport for women. Today I travel to Melbourne, to be excited once more to watch not only the Big Bash Final between the Sydney Thunder and Melbourne Stars but also to see an all- Sydney first final for the Women?s Big Bash League (WBBL) between the Sydney Sixers and Sydney Thunder.
Credit must be given to the same groups who have been orchestrating the Big Bash League to step up and create a World-class 20:20 league for Women. We are proud partners and sponsors of the two Sydney teams in the first final. We committed to support the teams and the league because we believe that women's sport has just as important part to play as men's sport. These young women are committed to their sport just as men are. For most, they play for love and in fact for many, they have to juggle day jobs as well as train and play in their chosen sport. Sarah Hungerford is a Cardiologist by day and a first class cricketer too. Rachel Haynes is an exciting opening bat as well as a successful marketer who works just two doors down from our office in Crows Nest.
I have traveled the World and been lucky to see some of the great sporting moments. The European Champions League Final; Olympic Finals and FA Cup Finals as well as the Ashes. I am now proud to say that some of the most exciting moments recently have been spent watching WBBL games. The WBBL is a subtler version than the BBL for sure but the standards are extremely high and its exciting and getting better and better. Just like Football's A-league, put time and effort into a game and the results and standards improve. Observe the unique gifts of players such as Ellyse Perry, Alyssa Healey, and Stafanie Taylor; England and Brisbane's Kate Cross; Aussie Captain Meg Lanning and Kiwi Sara McGlashan. Or follow the extraordinary captaincy of Alex Blackwell. She is such an impressive leader who can teach many a great deal. I have interviewed Alex this year and she stacks up with the best.
These young women are gifted athletes in their own right and just as important wonderful role models for our children. I have had the chance to observe them in close quarters this year. Having undertaken an XVenture experience with the two Sydney Women's teams pre- season, their team-work, their love and passion in what they do and the respect of themselves and each other is a joy. Their standards are very high. Then, if that's not enough for you, start following a team and notice your emotions in the final over. The tension in the games last weekend was almost unbearable.
These cricketers and other great women of sport such as: Leanne Campbell, our World Champion water skier; Laura Geitz , the captain of the Australian netball team; Kyah Simon and of course Ellyse Perry of the Matildas are so important to our growth, development and maturity as a nation. Our celebration, commitment and support of diversity and equal opportunity matters so much . Remember how the Matildas who as a team entertained us and represented our nation so brilliantly in the Women's World Cup last year? (no rolling around on the field there!)
Sport is a wonderful platform for learning, for overall health and emotional intelligence for both males and females. We need to embrace women in sport, support them and to encourage them. They can provide wonderful role models for our daughters and sons alike. Here's a start. Tune into Channel Ten's WBBL Final, today, Sunday 24th January at 1.40pm or better still, join myself and a few thousand others in celebrating their game at the MCG.
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