Sport Sport Focus Finally, the Adelaide Oval to recognise women

Finally, the Adelaide Oval to recognise women

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It’s been almost a year since I wrote about the procession of South Australian sporting greats honoured at the redeveloped Adelaide Oval.

Eight football and cricket legends – all of them worthy – have been immortalised in bronze, along with the names of a host of other past champions emblazoned on the stands, gates, decks, bars, terraces, rooms and bridges.

All of them are men.

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For reasons only known to the joint football and cricket committee responsible for selecting the names, women were overlooked in the first round of honours.

I appreciate the South Australian Cricket Association couldn’t ignore 140 years of history. Existing names were in place and had to be carried through. I also respect the SACA’s conscious decision to not name every square centimetre to allow for the inclusion of future champions.

Will former Australian cricket captain Karen Rolton be honoured? Photo: AAP
Will former Australian cricket captain Karen Rolton be honoured? Photo: AAP

But, no matter how you spin it, I still find it astonishing that not one person on that committee thought Karen Rolton, the former captain of Australia, was worthy of an honour somewhere in the half-a-billion-dollar redevelopment.

Her record speaks for itself. Not only did she captain her country, she retired as Australia’s highest run-scorer in women’s Test cricket and was named Australian women’s player of the year a record four times.

Pleasingly there are now plans in place to do something about the glaring oversight.

An “Avenue of Honour” will feature both women and men and a new set of honour boards acknowledging the outstanding achievements of the state’s female cricketers will hang alongside the men’s boards.

Perhaps most significantly there will be a substantial area inside the Oval named after a woman.

So did she by any chance captain Australia?

“I’m not allowed to say. That’s a very intelligent question but I can’t answer it,” SACA chief executive Keith Bradshaw told me recently.

The SACA had planned to unveil all three measures honouring women at the start of this cricket season but with the tragic death of Phillip Hughes the timing was deemed inappropriate.

“Certainly from our side, on the cricket side, we’ve always had a plan to honour women and we wanted to make sure we did it in the most appropriate manner.

“I don’t think it was a mistake. I think from our side we immensely value the contribution that women have made,” said Bradshaw, who didn’t sit on the selection committee.

To maximise exposure these unveilings will take place at the start of the next cricket season in October, at a time when women’s cricket in South Australia, like everywhere else in the country, is on the rise.

The women’s game in SA has become a strategic priority.

Over the past year the SACA has invested more heavily in its female programs at both the participation level and the top end, appointing the first full-time head coach of the SA Scorpions.

Two highly regarded international players were also brought in, which saw the Scorpions go from bottom of the ladder to the final against New South Wales.

“It’s certainly not something we’re paying lip service to,” Bradshaw said.

Faith Thomas, pictured here with Justin Langer, was the first Indigenous woman to play cricket for Australia. Photo: AAP
Faith Thomas, pictured here with Justin Langer, was the first Indigenous woman to play cricket for Australia. Photo: AAP

“We are genuinely investing in and we’re seeing fantastic returns and we want to see our women do well and succeed but we also want to provide the young girls with a pathway through so they can participate in the sport, they can enjoy the sport as players, spectators, coaches, umpires, scorers.”

The SACA should be applauded for the work it has done over the past year but it was wrong to ignore women at the grand opening of the new Adelaide Oval. It was a big occasion. It was an opportunity missed to send a powerful symbolic message about the value of women athletes and women’s sport.

It would not have been tokenistic, as South Australian football legend Graham Cornes and others have suggested. Rolton, Lyn Fullston, Joanne Broadbent, Jill Kennare and Faith Thomas are all trailblazers in the sport of cricket and deserve recognition.

Speaking at the Melbourne International Women’s Day Breakfast hosted by UN Women this week, Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland took aim at the failings of cricket to include and respect women:

“Despite the long history, it is fair to say cricket has been conservative and generally reluctant to promote female involvement in the game,” Sutherland said.

“In some parts, cricket has deserved the suggestion that it was predominantly ‘pale, male and stale’. Whilst slow to get going, we are now determined to make up for lost time. “

Thankfully the “pale, male and stale” tag is slowly disappearing.

When it finally does, cricket will be the richer for it.

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