By Chloe Saltau
Australia’s female athletes and teams are front and centre in the national sporting conversation on International Women’s Day. Our women’s cricket team has just won an astonishing 13th world title, and the Matildas are about to host the FIFA Women’s World Cup, which promises to be the biggest event on Australian soil since the Sydney Olympics.
But who is the most influential woman in Australian sport? Not the greatest or the most successful, but the most influential.
The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and Wide World of Sports have teamed up to choose the top 50 most influential women in Australian sport. To make this list, it wasn’t enough to be a champion sportswoman, although many are. From athletes to administrators, journalists to sports agents and sponsors, these women have made a difference. Some have taken a stand on issues that transcend sport, some made the decisions that determine where the money goes or what sports we see on TV, and others worked in the background to keep the major codes rolling along.
Our judges: Brooke Boney (Today entertainment presenter), Melissa Coulter Ryan (Sunday Age sports editor), Billie Eder (SMH sports reporter), Roz Kelly (WWOS sports presenter), Emily Patterson (wwos.com.au reporter), Georgina Robinson (SMH chief rugby reporter), Chloe Saltau (The Age sports editor), Zoe Samios (SMH/Age media reporter), Claire Siracusa (The Age sports producer), Kathryn Wicks (SMH associate editor).
How the judging worked: Each judge picked their own top 20, with votes apportioned in reverse order. So, No.20 was given one vote and No.19 two votes, and so on. From there, we compiled the top 50 based on total votes. Where two people finished with the same number of votes, they appear on our list in alphabetical order. We’ve been publishing 10 names every day, culminating with the top 10 on Wednesday, International Women’s Day.
Our list will doubtless provoke debate, but we hope it also recognises the importance of women to sport in this country, and encourages sporting bodies and businesses to keep pushing for equality.
Alyssa Healy.Credit:Getty Images
10. Alyssa Healy (61 votes)
Mae her debut for Australia in 2010 and has become one of the nation’s highest-profile cricketers. A multiple World Cup winner (Twenty20 and ODI), the wicketkeeper is a destructive batter at the top of the order and a chirpy presence behind the stumps in the powerhouse Australian women’s team. She was named the ICC T20 player of the year in 2018, and player of the match in Australia’s T20 World Cup final victory in Melbourne in 2020. As her game evolved, so too did her leadership on and off the field. She is an insightful commentator and a prominent voice for the growth of women’s cricket, having pushed for more collaboration between the men’s and women’s teams, and for the creation of a Women’s Indian Premier League, which has come to fruition. Last year she was appointed vice captain. Melissa Coulter Ryan
Caroline Wilson.Credit:James Brickwood
9. Caroline Wilson (67)
Wilson is a Walkley Award-winning journalist who has been a trailblazer in her coverage of Australian rules football since the early 1980s. She is the former chief AFL writer of The Age, and though she stepped down in 2017 after almost two decades, she continues to break some of the biggest stories in the game: in print, on television and on radio. Her coverage of football is agenda-setting and her work holds sway with people in power and fans alike. When Wilson speaks, the AFL world listens. Claire Siracusa
Josephine Sukkar.Credit:Kate Geraghty
8. Josephine Sukkar (70)
Australian Sports Commission chair
Sukkar holds one of the two most powerful positions in Olympic sports, leading the government agency responsible for funding and investing in all sport across Australia. While her understated leadership style has repaired the fractured relationship between the ASC and the Australian Olympic Committee under previous presidents John Wylie and John Coates, Sukkar is not afraid to make tough calls. She is also the president of Australian women’s rugby and, through the construction company she co-founded, has been a major sponsor of grassroots and women’s rugby for almost 30 years. Georgina Robinson
Daisy Pearce.Credit:Getty Images
7. Daisy Pearce (71)
Former AFLW player
Pearce will forever be known as one of the most influential names in women’s sport, blazing a trail for female athletes and boosting the profile of the AFLW. She was drafted as the first player for the Melbourne Demons for the AFLW’s inaugural season in 2017, playing a total of 55 games and captaining for six seasons. She won best and fairest three times and was voted the AFLW’s best captain four times by peers. Pearce is one of the most respected commentators of the game, but she is also a sustainability campaigner, midwife and mother, proving to all aspiring female athletes that anything is possible. In January, Pearce announced her retirement from playing. But it’s not over yet – she joins the coaching team of AFL premiers Geelong from next season. Her influence, it appears, is far from over. Zoe Samios
Lauren Jackson.Credit:Eddie Jim, The Age
6. Lauren Jackson (75)
Jackson has changed the face of Australian basketball. With a resume boasting four Olympic medals, a World Championship gold medal, two WNBA titles, three WNBA MVP awards and an induction into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame, Jackson has forged an imposing legacy. After closing the door on a distinguished 20-year career in 2016, the mother of two inspired a new generation of sports fans with her remarkable comeback from chronic injury last year. Benefiting from a therapeutic-use exemption to take medicinal cannabis, Jackson has become an advocate for the treatment, joining the sports advisory board for Australian sports science company Levin Health. Emily Patterson
5. Ellyse Perry (81)
Perry was just 16 when she played her first one-day international for Australia in 2007, the youngest player ever to do so. It was a feat in itself, but she also made her debut for the Matildas 13 days later. Her football career – the unforgettable highlight of which remains a left-footed goal against Sweden in the 2011 World Cup quarter-final – wound up around 2015 with the advent of the Big Bash and the acceleration of professionalism in both sports. As the world’s premier cricket all-rounder, she was the first player to amass the combination of 1000 runs and 100 wickets in T20 internationals. Sixteen years later, with a swag of awards too vast to list, the unfailingly humble Perry continues to dominate cricket. Kathryn Wicks
Cate Campbell.Credit:Getty Images
4. Cate Campbell (82)
Cate Campbell doesn’t need an introduction. She’s a four-time Olympian, a world record holder, a four-time gold medallist, and a sporting figure who has long advocated for the representation of women in sport. In 2022, the 30-year-old took on a new role as chair of the Australian Olympics Committee Athletes’ Commission after nine years on the board. Leading the group that oversees the position of athletes will be very important, particularly in the lead up to the Brisbane 2032 Olympics. Campbell has spoken about the role she wants to play, specifically regarding the AOC’s sustainability ambitions and its role in Indigenous reconciliation. Zoe Samios
Ash Barty.Credit:Scott McNaughton
3. Ash Barty (116)
Former tennis player
Retired from tennis at 25 when she was the world No.1 and arguably Australia’s best-known athlete. Yet even in retirement, Barty has a powerful voice. She was coaxed back to the scene of her final grand slam triumph this year, along with her hero Evonne Goolagong Cawley, to be the face of the Australian Open’s inaugural Indigenous day. She is fiercely proud of her Indigenous heritage and uses her platform to create pathways for Indigenous kids to live their dreams. Barty is also a sought-after corporate speaker and has been appointed by Optus as the “chief of inspiration”. Brooke Boney
Gina Rinehart.Credit:Matt Krumins
2. Gina Rinehart (130)
Australia’s richest person, with a value of $43.5 billion through Hancock Prospecting, has long been active in Australian sport. She provides millions in funding for Olympic athletes in swimming, rowing, artistic swimming and beach volleyball, and as a partner of the Australian Olympic Committee. Despite her influence, Rinehart’s stance on various issues, such as climate change and in response to the Diamonds players’ uniform boycott in support of Indigenous teammate Donnell Wallam, resulted in clashes with some of the athletes she sponsors. Her view that “it is unnecessary for sports organisations to be used as the vehicle for social or political causes” illustrates the fine line between sponsorship, obligation and influence. Melissa Coulter Ryan
Sam Kerr has scored 62 goals for Australia.Credit:Getty Images
1. Sam Kerr (185)
Sam Kerr’s achievements are staggering, on and off the field. The Matildas captain is the country’s all-time leading goal scorer (62 goals), scored Australia’s first World Cup hat-trick and is the first woman to win the Golden Boot in three leagues on different continents. Off the field, the Chelsea striker became the first woman to feature on the cover of the FIFA series of video games last year, posing next to French superstar Kylian Mbappe. She was named the 2018 Young Australian of the Year and was last year awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia. Kerr is a global superstar, and her ranking on this list reflects it.
From the panel of 10 journalists across the Nine television and print networks, the lowest ranking anyone gave Kerr was eighth. Most of our writers, editors and broadcasters put her in their top five.
In the same way the 29-year-old soccer player has backflipped and scored her way into the national consciousness over the past 14 years since her professional debut, Kerr rocketed to the top of the final tally of votes.
She beat recently retired tennis champion Ash Barty and a handful of powerful politicians and administrators, most notably federal Sports Minister Annika Wells and her state counterparts, whose funding decisions are driving the country’s so-called “golden decade” of sport, which will culminate in the 2032 Olympics.
Sam Kerr celebrates after scoring for Chelsea in last year’s FA Cup final.Credit:Getty Images
Our list showed influence was devoid of sporting sentiment. Gina Rinehart polled second not only for her ongoing funding of several Olympics sports but because her role in the Diamonds’ sponsorship saga put a spotlight on the fragile relationship between sport, sponsors and the athletes who benefit.
But Kerr’s on-field brilliance trumped Rinehart’s financial clout, and not just because of her globally recognised excellence or trademark goal celebrations.
Kerr’s influence has been built on her authenticity off the field, too. She has not courted public affection, she has attracted it, through her skill, her devotion to teammates, her family and her love of the game.
To understand the nature of Kerr’s appeal, look at the forward’s idols: Barty and Cathy Freeman. Freeman and Barty rose to the top of their sports without letting their genius overshadow their humanity. Kerr’s influence, like theirs, is founded on authenticity.
“I think anyone I’ve been on this journey with would say that I’ve always stayed true to myself and that’s something I’m really proud of,” Kerr said in 2021. “I’ve always stayed the same.”
It does not mean she wins popularity contests. In fact, the major individual honours that elude Kerr in her sport are voted for, the Ballon d’Or and FIFA’s player of the year award. She has been shortlisted or nominated for both, multiple times.
Kerr is herself on and off the field, and on social media. Her Instagram is full of football, friends, family and loved-up selfies with her partner, American professional player Kristie Mewis. The advertisements that do make it to Kerr’s “grid” include partnerships with Nike, EA Sports, Tourism WA and CommBank.
Her profile will peak in Australia this year. If there are any Australian homes that have not heard of Sam Kerr, a World Cup in Australia will bridge that gap.
There is huge pressure on her, as the face of the Matildas off the pitch and their star striker on it. She has spoken about it being the Matildas’ “Cathy Freeman moment”, referencing Freeman’s 400m gold medal win on home soil. She is focused on staying injury-free and in form before the tournament, with winning in August the ultimate goal.
As she said in an interview in late 2021: “You train and play all these games to lift a trophy, not to have a Golden Boot sitting on the shelf. Those things are nice, to be rewarded for your efforts, but they mean nothing really if you don’t have a trophy.” Georgina Robinson
- Read Part One here: 50-41
- Read Part Two here: 40-31
- Read Part Three here: 30-21
- Read Part Four here: 20-11
News, results and expert analysis from the weekend of sport sent every Monday. Sign up for our Sport newsletter.
Most Viewed in Sport
Source: Read Full Article