The Melbourne Cup is the second richest horse race in the world with prize money of about US$4.6 million and is the marquee event of the busy Spring Racing Carnival in Melbourne. In Australia, it’s known as ‘the race that stops a nation’ and even demands a public holiday in its home state of Victoria.
Yesterday’s Melbourne Cup saw a 100-1 outside chance win the grueling 3,200m race with a superb tactical ride by the jockey.
The horse is Prince of Penzance. The jockey is Michelle Payne.
Yes, you read that right. A woman jockey was the winner in one of the most prestigious horse races in the world. She is the first woman to do so.
Michelle had previously ridden Prince of Penzance for 21 of his 22 wins (she was suspended for one) but some of the owners didn’t want her to have the ride in this marquee event. All credit to the trainer, Darren Weir, he stuck by her; as did one of the majority owners, John Richards.
What I loved was Michelle’s Attitude with a capital ‘A’. Interviewed soon after the race, she didn’t hold back. She said she knew some of the owners wanted to kick her off. Her thoughts?
“I want to say to everyone else, get stuffed, because women can do anything and we can beat the world.”
The fact is women have a more challenging time in sport than men, whether it be as athletes, managers, administrators, medical staff or in media.
Gender stereotypes, sadly, prevail as highlighted vividly in this video #LikeAGirl from last year. We still think women can’t play five sets of tennis, can’t cycle 280km per day, or can’t possibly swim a 1,500m race.
Amongst the top 100 highest paid athletes in the world only two (2%!) are women – both tennis players – and one of them earns more from her commercial relationships than her performance on the court. For the 2012 Olympics, the Australian men’s basketball team flew business class in the 24-hour flight from Sydney to London; the women’s basketball team had to fly premium economy. By the time the Australian women’s football team made the quarter-finals of the Women’s World Cup this year they had been paid $2,850; at the same stage of the Asian Cup (which they went on to win), the men’s team had earned $66,000. The World Cup winning England women’s rugby team – yes, England can play rugby! – received no salary at all with players expected to juggle training, family life and tournaments with full-time jobs to keep themselves afloat.
The former team doctor of Chelsea Football Club is pursuing the club for constructive dismissal and its manager, Jose Mourinho, personally for victimisation and discrimination. Prior to being dumped to the backroom of Chelsea’s medical department, she endured months of appalling name-calling and sexist commentary from opposition fans.
I wrote about the lack of gender equality in sports administration more than 18 months ago. My challenge is still relevant. In the disgraceful FIFA Ethics Committee report, two women administrators – one a senior executive – were singled-out, alone from 75 witnesses, and discredited and disparaged. As the FIFA mess unravels, their claims are proving spot-on.
I know a highly professional and experienced woman international sports journalist who was told that the governing body of a particular sport said she wasn’t “right” for a sport-specific talk show anymore as she didn’t “fit the demographic”. No matter that there were men involved in the same show who were the same age and older, less intelligent and not near as articulate.
In this day and age, you’d hope that discrimination and sexism were not part of sport. But as the handful of examples I mention, and as Michelle Payne’s comments made clear, they are rife.
Michelle Payne’s ‘back story’ is heartwarming and inspiring. She deserves to be admired and lauded as a person who is at the top of her sport.
Play #LikeAGirl Michelle. You do it bloody well.