Champions set to change our game

The second intake of Change Our Game Champions have been unveiled and a diverse group of male sports leaders gathered in Melbourne to discuss how they can be champions of change within their organisations and the broader sporting community.

The Change Our Game Champions program, now in its second year, brings together influential leaders from the sport and active recreation sector to champion cultural change and generate leadership opportunities and experiences for women and girls.

Dr Bridie O’Donnell, Director, Office for Women in Sport and Recreation, said the role of the champions is to influence change, not just within their organisation but sector wide by sharing information, resources and acting as a figurehead in driving positive change.

The recently introduced group of Change Our Game Champions are:

John Ballis - Reclink Victoria Rick Bell - AFL Victoria

Peter Burns - YMCA Victoria

Grant Cosgriff - Triathlon Victoria

Peter Filopoulos - Football Victoria

Jason Hellwig - Swimming Victoria

Nick Honey - Basketball Victoria

Brent Silva - NRL Victoria

“These eight organisations have taken steps to ensure gender equality is a focus when it comes to shaping the strategic direction for their sport and I look forward to working with each of them to build upon the outstanding work done by our 2018 Champions and to further drive positive change sector wide,” Dr O’Donnell said.

Peter Burns, Chief Executive at YMCA Victoria says the Change Our Game champions program proves a unique opportunity to share ideas and challenges.

“As a social movement, we’ve accepted the responsibility to be progressive and to anticipate societies trends and needs, so as far back as the 70’s we’ve had women presidents of the YMCA. Our challenges these days are to be continually pushing the boundaries of expectations, so we are meeting the expectations of our current cohort, the millennials,” Burns says.

“The pace of change is quite profound and so organisations like to go slowly, what we are trying to do is wind ourselves up to be rapid and adapting and that’s crucial. My role is to clear the way so people in our organisation can run forward and not hit road blocks.”

When it comes to increasing the number of women in visable leadership roles in sport, AFL Victoria CEO Rick Bell acknowledges there is still work to be done however we are starting to see progress.

"We are seeing a ground swell of women and girls into our game, this onfield growth is bringing more volunteers to our game in off field roles. The talent pool or the volunteer pool is increasing and therefore we'll start to see more and more females in roles on club committees and then in leadership roles in club committees - that's really important for us." Rick said.

Triathlon Victoria CEO Grant Cosgriff says that whilst triathlon has grown up as a gender inclusive sport, challenges still remain.

“We are about 65% male 35% female so whilst we would believe we are very gender neutral, really the participation and membership stats state that twice as many men as women participate,” Cosgriff says.

“Our number one challenge is senior role models within the network and as a partner in the Change Our Game program we have some funding to address those challenges. We need more female officials at the senior levels, taking the senior roles at the events. Being the people on the microphone giving the pre-race briefing and more in coaching.”

Like many sports, in football and basketball it’s available facilities that are the major roadblock to increasing participation and improving the experience for women and girls.

Football Victoria CEO Peter Filopoulos says the current participation rate for female players, referees and coaches is 19%, with a goal of 50% by 2027.

“Our biggest growth is coming from women and girls,” Filopoulos says.

“We are already at saturation point in terms of our facilities and with most of our growth coming from women and girls we need to build capacity in our pitches.”

“Like football, basketball faces a shortage of facilities to allow the number of players who want to play to play the game,” notes Basketball Victoria CEO Nick Honey.

“With the introduction of programs such as walking basketball for elderly players, and the continued growth of the game amongst young girls, it’s court time and referees that are the number one road block. We are 180 courts short at the moment according to our last facilities survey. It’s a fair investment that we’ve got to find, not just for training, but also for playing.”

Honey says whilst the participation numbers for women and girls are strong on the court, off the court change isn’t occurring as quickly as Basketball Victoria would like.

“No, we are not seeing enough change in that area and there’s no question it’s a major issue and therefore a major focus for our sport. The vast majority of the senior positions within club land and working its way through the hierarchy are fielded by men and it’s a major issue that we have to address.” Honey says.

To do so Basketball Victoria are running club and association leadership programs for aspirants. Education, empowering, training with more coaching courses being led by and delivered by women for women, with the support of the Change Our Game program.

Both Honey and Filopoulos hope their involvement in the program in 2019 can make a difference.

“Personally, that my understanding and education is up to speed and is best practice and how I can transfer that across to the culture and programs of Basketball Victoria to continue to pursue our goals of more females in leadership positions and more females playing basketball,” Honey says of his goals from involvement throughout 2019.

“I hope I’ve contributed to the culture shift and I hope I’ve by example within my own environment and I’ve inspired people outside my own environment to contribute to what we need to do to meet our aspirations as a fraternity and an industry,” says Filopoulos.

NRL Victoria General Manager, Brent Silva sees this program as a catalist to drive positive change.

"I think this program offers fantastic opportunities for our sport our leaders involved in the game. Through this process I hope to see some real progression towards achieving gender balance in sport and rugby league in Victoria.

RecLink Austrlia CEO John Ballis is using the program to create long term cultural change.

"This program is going to challenge me. As a male CEO in an organisation seeking to push women's participation at an executive level, it is about listening, it's about understanding what their requirements are and there's also creating the culture within the organisation to say that it's important, not just okay, to have women in leadership."

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