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Why does sport only save some women?

by Dr Stuart Murray, Associate Professor of International Relations and Diplomacy at Bond University

The effectiveness of the power of sports to save women's lives was vividly demonstrated at the Sydney Cricket Ground earlier this month. For the 16th consecutive year, a sea of pink enveloped fans, players, police and numerous others in support of the annual Jane McGrath Day. The event honours the memory of Jane McGrath, the late wife of legendary Australian fast bowler Glenn McGrath, who succumbed to breast cancer in 2008.

In Australia the incidence of breast cancer (the number of new cases) has risen dramatically over the last 28 years, from about 9827 cases a year in 1994, to more than 20,000 new cases a year in 2022. As a result, one in seven women will now be diagnosed in their lifetime.

The efforts of the cricketer Tracey Bevan (McGrath Foundation Director who met Jane while her ex-husband Michael Bevan played alongside McGrath) have been remarkable. The foundation has supported 127,000 families experiencing breast cancer since 2005, funded 204 breast care nurses across Australia, and raised $6.44 million at the 2024 Pink Test.

So what does sports diplomacy have to do with all this? Sport is being consciously and strategically used by state and non-state actors to tackle a human security tragedy. Cricket is employed as a means to an end, a method involving communication, representation and negotiation. Tapping into the universal language of sport, the game ‘joins the dots’ between a diverse group of stakeholders at home and abroad. The Pink Test is supported by the Australian Government, NRMA Insurance, Fox Sports, Toyota, and many others. England’s Barmy Army, the superstar Virat Kohli and country music singer Adam Harvey are ‘foundation friends’ (or ambassadors, or diplomats, in our parlance). Paying homage to the Sydney Pink Test, in 2011 South Africa became the first team overseas to ‘turn pink’. Many others have followed the successful initiative.

The question is – and you will appreciate the directness of the tone – why do victims of domestic violence not receive similar treatment, funding and exposure? In 2023, a woman was murdered every five days. So how can sport tackle domestic violence? First, others can learn from and copy the model the McGrath Foundation has developed. It works. Roll it out! Second, find a few famous sportspeople to captain the team, inspire others and represent the issue – those at the end of their sporting careers tend to be the most suitable. Third, and in the words of Rob Tranter, the instigator of DFAT’s first Sports Diplomacy Strategy, join the dots between sport, government and those men and women fighting the problem. Which business, politician or sports administrator wouldn’t support an effort to use the power of sport to save women’s lives?

Fourth and final, and perhaps most importantly, men and boys need SERIOUS education, training, and avenues. To illustrate how much help, consider the sentiment, words, and advice of FIFA President Gianni Infantino. On equality, he suggested women, “pick the right battles. Pick the right fights. You have the power. Convince us men what we have to do and what we don’t have to do. You do it. Just do it. With men, with FIFA, you will find open doors. Just push the doors. They are open.”

Despite the clumsiness of the words, the man is right but only to a point. It is no longer a matter of waiting for women to tell men what to do. It is time for women and men, from sport, government, business, etcetera, to take a leaf out of the McGrath Foundation, form a team, and get to work. Otherwise, we should give domestic violence the colour and representation it currently deserves and start having a Black Test too.

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