After 123 years of male leadership, the Victorian Athletic League has appointed Stephanie Spence as their first female President, a move which has received an overwhelmingly positive response.
The Victorian Athletic League promotes and oversees the sport of pro running where athletes are given a handicap, based on their ability, to provide an equal opportunity for all runners.
Spence, a former athlete, joined the VAL Board in 2016. While intending to compete again in the future, Spence took on the administration role while being pregnant and raising her family to give back to the sport she loves. Her professional running career highlights include winning the Stawell women’s 800m final in 2011, Bendigo 400m final in 2012 as a backmarker and Rye 120m Diamond in 2013 in front of her family.
Professional running began in Australia in the gold-mining days with winners awarded the gift of a gold nugget. Prize money was introduced in the 1860’s. In 2015, the VAL’s premier event, the Stawell Gift, introduced equal prize money for the women’s Gift, increasing from $6,000 to $60,000, with first place receiving $40,000.
“There were days when there were very few races specifically for women and no female change rooms, so women just had to work it out,” she recalled.
“Not only do woman have their own change rooms but we have gone some way to receiving equal prizemoney and we are seeing more females come into the sport through the junior races that are now at every meeting, which has been a great way for the sport to grow”. Unlike most sports, pro running provides the opportunity for men and women to run against each other in the same competition due to the handicap system.
“Gender equality in the professional term has often meant equal prize money and equal prize money is fantastic but I want to make sure that women and men can continue to compete against each other because I think that’s what is unique about our sport” Spence said.
“In the administrative space, I think women can spring a different point of view and have alternate ideas that should be welcomed. Women should feel that they can speak up and have just as valuable contribution as their male counter parts regardless that they’re women.”
The Change Our Game initiative aims to modernise sporting environments by creating more leadership pathways to empower women in sport and recreation, a responsibility Spence looks forward to taking on.
“I want to be more visible and I want young girls to be involved in sport whether at competition or administrative level because I feel it’s so accessible and so great for your health and wellbeing.”
Spence wants to encourage young boys and girls from an administrative perspective to be engaged through potentially offering some junior positions at meetings, focusing on promoting sport to all generations and continuing to be involved throughout your life.
“I’m raising a young family, you can fit it in, you can do both and what’s really important to me is that my kids can see how important sport is and how much joy sport can bring, I really hope that flows through.”
“I’m most excited about some of the traction that I’m hoping the sport can gain and I’m hoping that we can show that women can do it just as well as men.”