Women’s sports has always lagged behind men’s sports but Danielle Warby believes that it doesn’t have to be this way. For years, the driven Australian has been a passionate advocate for women in sport and working hard to promote women’s sport.

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There are plenty of challenges faced by women in sports. Aside from higher salaries, male athletes generally enjoy more coverage, sponsorship, and esteem than their female counterparts. In Forbes’ 2016 ranking of the world’s highest paid athletes, not a single female was made it to the top 20. Only two, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams were featured in the top 100.

Despite the odds, there are many women working hard to level the playing field for female athletes. One of them is Danielle Warby who wears multiple hats as a sports fan, advocate for women in sport, journalist, communications specialist, and founder and editor of Sports Sheilas. Sporting Sheilas  which ran for 2006 – 2016, was a pioneering site for women’s sports news and promoted the Women’s national sports teams in Australia.

Warby wrote about how sex does not sell women’s sport and Underpaid, under-protected: Australian football’s women players deserve better. Stereotypes for sportswomen continue to persist and LGBT sportswomen especially faced homophobia in sports and visibility issues in mainstream media, as illustrated in a talk presented by her for ‘Queer Thinking: Out in Sport’ as part of the 2014 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras festival.

Danielle Warby was the managing editor of Zela, a website dedicated to women in sport started by SBS, a public broadcaster from Australia with a commitment to representing the diversity of Australia. Unfortunately, the popular site was shut down last September due to budgetary constraints and it was a loss for the Australian sports community. Despite the setback, she remains committed to the cause and recently started weekly emails promoting women in sport as well as some of the awesome women and men writing about them. You can sign up here. We recently catch up with this badass woman to find out what motivates her, the institutional biases in media, her sporting heroines and what she hopes to see for women’s sports in the future.

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   DANIELLE WARBY PLAYS FOOTBALL WITH THE FLYING BATS © JOSEPH MAYERS

TT: WHAT SPORTS DO YOU PLAY?
I play football. Or, more accurately, played. I’ve taken this past year off after playing with the Flying Bats for 12 years. I’m also a life member of the club and served on the committee for 7 years including 2 as president. They’re the oldest and largest lesbian soccer club in the world and a story in themselves. You can read about their history on their website.

TT: WHO ARE YOUR SPORTS HEROINES?
Currently, I’m pretty damn impressed with Megan Rapinoe. She’s a great advocate for the LGBT community and an is also taking a stand on racism.

I always admired Dawn Fraser for being what we in Australia like to call a larrikin. A term usually applied to men, while she was competing she was someone you couldn’t help noticing! Sadly, her politics these days leave a lot to be desired.

TT: HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED WITH THE SPORTS INDUSTRY?
The unofficial story, I had a crush on one of the Matildas and it was all an elaborate ploy to meet her.

The professional, and equally true, the story is I was inspired by a friend, Bronnie Mackintosh. She played rugby union and rugby league for Australia and was forever fundraising to just pay for the uniforms for the Wallaroos to wear while representing their country. It really, to put it mildly, pissed me off that these women received no support from the sport governing body and in fact, were out of pocket.

On top of that, finding out any info about my crush or any women in sport at all was close to impossible. So in 2006, I started a website, Sporting Sheilas, dedicated to reporting on our national sports teams. I haven’t looked back.

TT: WHAT DRIVES YOUR PASSION IN SPORTS? WHY DO YOU CHOOSE TO BECOME AN ADVOCATE FOR WOMEN’S SPORTS?
I think the above answers that as well! In addition, I’ll say my work in sport is how I express my feminism. It seems to be one area where it’s still ok to say that men are inherently better than women which totally ignores the fact that what excites us about a sport is the backstory of the competitors and the competition between the people on the pitch at that time. Yet people still insist on comparing a men’s football game to women’s.

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TT: MAINSTREAM MEDIA IS ALWAYS TELLING US PEOPLE ARE NOT INTERESTED IN WOMEN’S SPORT? WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO THAT?
That’s pretty much stopped to a large extent in Australia. And anyone saying it, we just ignore them and hope they go away. It’s their issue! We’ve seen some massive numbers in games broadcast here, particularly AFL, cricket and some Matildas games at the Olympics and World Cup. So, we have plenty of evidence now that people are interested and those that say otherwise just look like fools.

TT: RIO NOW HOLDS THE RECORD FOR THE MOST NUMBER OF FEMALE OLYMPIANS. MORE PEOPLE ARE STARTING TO BECOME AWARE OF THE BIAS IN MEDIA AND THERE IS MORE DISCUSSION ON COVERAGE OF FEMALE ATHLETES. DO YOU THINK THIS MARKS THE BEGINNING OF A TURNING POINT FOR WOMEN IN SPORTS OR DO WE STILL HAVE A LONG WAY TO GO? 

I think it could be a turning point, yes. However, interest in women’s sport is cyclical. If we look back in history we see peaks and troughs. We do still have a long way to go and I believe now the main challenge, at least here in Australia, is to keep the momentum going. There’s a lot of institutional biases in the media that still need to be broken down. Right now, women’s sport is the shiny ‘new’ thing but once the novelty wears off there is a danger of regressing. We must not let that happen.

TT: WHAT’S NEEDED TO TAKE THE SPORT TO THE NEXT LEVEL?
Consolidating gains and maintaining an upward trajectory. I think ‘old’ media is in some trouble yet it’s still that media that holds the power here. Women’s sport needs to keep pushing to be accepted there while not ignoring the opportunity of the digital space. And we’re behind there. Sports here, instead of considering ‘new’ media as a way to promote the women’s game at a lower initial investment, just ended up pushing more men’s sport into that space at the expense of the women. Sports need to put the women’s game at the centre of their strategy as it’s where the potential growth is.

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   DANIELLE WARBY PLAYING NETBALL IN SCHOOL

TT: AS AN ADVOCATE FOR WOMEN IN SPORTS, WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO SEE?
This is something that upset me recently. Girls are still being pushed out of sport. Also this from the CEO of Hockey Australia.

While I focus on helping elite athletes get the recognition they deserve, a lot of work still needs to be done at the junior level. It’s all connected but when girls are told explicitly or implicitly that sport is not for them, it’s going to remain an uphill battle.

Want to hear Danelle Warby talk about Women’s World Cup with Australia’s Women National Football Team player Tameka Butt? Click here to listen.