WOMEN IN THE SPORTS MEDIA
World Trotting Conference
Fourteen months ago I arrived at Sky Channel with a little bit of experience under my belt fully expecting I'd be right in the front line with John Tapp and Graham McNeice.
You can imagine how I felt when I was told I'd be hosting a show called In Full Flight which was basically about fashion, flowers, hats and champers in the carpark.
It was one of the most disillusioning moments in my career.
What I'm pleased to report is that the show lasted exactly two months.
We did only one story on hats, which was the worst to appear on the show, nothing on fashion and the marquees were never visited, mind you I've managed to make up for that at every carnival since. The point is some people at Sky Channel had pre-conceptions about what female reporters in racing should do.
I made it very clear that was not what I wanted to do, there was no way I was going to be a token female reporter.
To their credit my colleagues quickly got the message and I've been pretty much treated like anybody else ever since. Blokes who run racing can be a little slow to get the point but you can break through the stereotypes - it's up to you to fight your own battles.
When you think about it it's not that long ago yellow lines were drawn at racetracks around Australia and a woman was not to cross. If she did she'd be quickly chastised. A colleague who is now the racing editor at AAP made the fatal error of stepping over the line. It was an honest mistake for which she had to apologise profusely!
Believe it or not, in my lifetime women were not permitted in the media room at Royal Randwick. Also right up until the 70s no woman was allowed to enter the sports department at the Sydney Morning Herald! Oh there was one exception, the copy taker was permitted to enter this male domain.
And in the 90s racing administrators had the nerve to argue that Gai Waterhouse couldn't get a license because she would be corruptly influenced by her husband Robbie. Can you image an extraordinary woman like Gai, who currently leads the Sydney trainer's premiership, sitting meekly at home being manipulated by the old man - what a joke.
And what about poor old Granny Macdonald from New Zealand. She trained Catalogue to win the 1938 Melbourne Cup. The record books says Allan McDonald but while he knew his horses his wife was the trainer.
The VRC wouldn't have a bar of women trainers, strappers or handlers back then.
In my own experience my first job in television working at Channel Ten as a sports reporter in Melbourne was testing. When the West Indies last toured Australia a couple of years ago I was sent to cover the arrival of the team in Melbourne for the Boxing Day Test.
Gun batsman Brian Lara hadn't been firing on tour so my aim was to get an interview with him for the news that evening. I knew it would be difficult given he had not uttered a word to the media since arriving in the country.
I approached him at the baggage claim and after a brief chat he agreed to do the interview - bingo I had a scoop and it would be the lead sports story on Ten that night. I returned to the office proudly waving the tape but that joy was short lived. A jealous male reporter turned from his computer, sniggered and said "the only reason you got that interview is because he wants to sleep with you!"
Time passed and things improved, almost exactly a year later I was appointed to read the sports news for a week, the first time a woman had done that in Melbourne.
Realistically there's still a long way to go for women in the sports media, the hard battle is far from won.
Only at the weekend a close friend who is a sports producer went on a trip to Melbourne. One evening her male colleagues returned to the hotel drunk and persisted to manhandle her and make a mockery of her professional abilities.
How would you feel?
How would you deal with it?
After considering quitting her wonderful new job she gritted her teeth and a few days later did a very game thing, and the right thing, she reported it to her boss and got on with the job.
As the old cigarette commercial goes, "you've come a long way baby" but there's still a long way to go.
There's no point whingeing about the blokes, we have the power to be what we want to be - it's in our hands.
Be thick skinned and be very good at it and the Sky's the limit.