More women and girls playing sport in Merri-bek (media release)

Moreland City Council has shared its 10-year journey to creating inclusive sporting clubs at the Creating Change Through Policy forum at Brunswick Town Hall on 31 July.

Hosted by Council and the Victorian Office for Women in Sport and Recreation, more than 100 people attended the forum to hear how Merri-bek Council increased female sports participation across the municipality from 8% in 2008 to 23% in 2018.

Deputy Mayor of Merri-bek, Cr Mark Reilly shone a spotlight on how a groundbreaking council sports policy started over 10 years ago became a driving force to achieve more inclusive and equitable playing fields in every sports arena in Merri-bek.

“Council continues to break down barriers to sports and recreational participation for everyone in our community.” Cr Riley said.

“The Allocation of Sporting Grounds and Pavilions Policy has been a catalyst that has seen the creation of more welcoming clubs and grounds for women and girls – and for people of all abilities and cultural backgrounds.

“There has been a huge shift in awareness of the importance of being inclusive and in the way sports clubs operate.”

Many local councils are developing policies, strategies and audit tools to increase access and use of their sports facilities. The forum allowed councils, health partners and other interested organisations to hear from a range of speakers well versed on building inclusive environments for all; including Dr Bridie O’Donnell, Director of the Office of Women in Sport and Recreation, and Tamara Mason, Female Sport Participation Officer at Merri-bek.

Cr Riley and Ms Mason talked about encouraging clubs to have an open-door policy. They outlined how, in 2008, Council’s research discovered only 8% of sports ground users were female, a figure they wanted to increase.

Through the Active Women and Girls Strategy, Council created a full-time role, a policy for allocating ground and pavilions and provided incentives for clubs to meet the policy; that for a club to have access to a ground and pavilion, they needed to field a junior team and have female participation in the first instance. The policy acknowledged that clubs need to be sustainable and ensure junior players had a pathway to play.

Council continued to raise the bar by updating the policy twice over the 10 year period, including lease clubs in 2012 and requiring clubs to field female teams within three years from 2016.

Council also had to explore new ways to promote sport and recreation to females and they needed to boost clubs’ collaboration; improve facilities; and provide incentives to clubs while strengthening recreation and infrastructure policies. All this has been achieved and it is still a work in progress to keep the momentum going.

Through discussion and sharing insights at the forum, other councils now have more information and a supportive network to assist with the growth of sporting clubs and associations in their local communities. Merri-bek City Council is proud to be the leader in this space and welcomes contact from councils looking for more information, guidance and support.