Samatha Stosur and Sports Participation

I spoke in parliament today about Samatha Stosur's US Open win and the value of sports participation.
Samantha Stosur
21 September 2011

More often than not, when we rise in this place to praise a sporting hero it is in praise of a man. When I was a boy, my focus was on distance events so I looked up to people like long distance runner Steve Moneghetti, triathlete Greg Welch and race walker Simon Baker. As a participant in each of these sports, I admired the ability of these men to develop and sustain their physical and mental ability and to push the boundaries.

Not often enough in this place do we talk about the sporting achievements of women. It is harder for women to excel at sport at an elite level. There are not many elite sports for which women are paid a sufficient amount to dedicate their life to the sport. There are few women’s sports that attract television coverage and the associated sponsorship and endorsements. Smaller still are the number of women’s sports that attract prime-time television coverage and the even more lucrative sponsorship deals. Just a handful of women sports pay their athletes equivalent to men.

Tennis is an exception. In Australia, we have had a long history of champion female tennis players. Margaret Molesworth won the first-ever women's title at the Australasian Championships, now the Australian Open, in 1922. Margaret Court was dominant in the 1960s and 1970s. Evonne Goolagong Cawley was until now our most recent grand slam champion with her 1980 Wimbledon title.

Now we can add 27-year-old Samantha Stosur to the list. Stosur's story is inspirational. Her early career focussed on doubles. Sam was ranked No. 1 in the world in doubles by 2006. But she contracted Lyme disease in 2007. It was devastating. She was out of tennis for close to a year and a return to the game was difficult as the illness had left her weakened.

On her return, Sam had a renewed focus on her singles game and managed to creep up the rankings. We thought her loss in the 2010 French Open final might have been the closest she would ever come to winning a grand slam. But this year Sam demonstrated that she has the physical and mental strength to succeed at the elite level by winning the US Open. My staff had been talking in the office about little else apart from Sam for days leading up to her victory. I managed to watch the final few points myself. Not surprisingly, many Australians were late to work that morning. Famously, Sam remembers staying home from school to watch her idol Pat Rafter winning his title in 1997. Now, young Australian girls have seen one of their own achieve this feat. They can see that women are capable of achieving at an elite level too. So Sam, well done on your victory and may this be the first of many.

While I am speaking on the topic of sports participation, I use this chance to acknowledge the active sportswomen in my office who have helped me prepare these remarks: basketball and hockey player Louise Crossman; and netball and tennis player Angela Winkle. In the ACT, I also recognise the efforts of Karen Hardy to increase the participation of women in sport. Recognising the benefits of team sports, Karen has established her own scholarship. Having attained life membership of her hockey club, Karen no longer needs to pay fees so she is using her saved fees to personally pay for mothers returning to play hockey. Karen's scholarship aims to keep people, particularly women, playing sport. The benefit of sport is as a place to come together with people of all different ages, backgrounds and skill levels. Karen describes her team as:

'… a place where we can come and not be anything but ourselves. We don't have to be mothers or partners or workers or students or daughters. All we are is us.'

This camaraderie and shared experience—what some have called social capital—helps link people together and build bonds of trust. Yet in the period from 1993 to 2007, the share of Australians participating in organised sport fell from 33 per cent to 27 per cent. In this environment, world-beating sports stars such as Samantha Stosur, and local sporting heroes such as Karen Hardy, should be particularly applauded.

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.