DEPUTY Premier John Barilaro and Acting Minister for Sport Geoff Lee announced that round four of the $100 million Stronger Country Communities Fund will have a regional sports focus, with up to $50 million to be made available for the delivery and enhancement of women’s sporting facilities, including change rooms.
“Women have been flying the flag for Australian sport with our international teams achieving incredible status on the world platform and many of these athletes come from regional communities,” Mr Barilaro said.
“Too many women participating in local soccer, AFL, rugby or cricket matches in rural and regional locations don’t have access to suitable changing facilities so the NSW government has committed this funding to level the playing field.
“Access to designated female change rooms will be of huge benefit to our future Matildas, Opals, Hockeyroos, Jillaroos and Wallaroos, as well as local athletes,” Mr Barilaro said.
This will be music to the ears of the numerous sporting codes on the Coffs Coast where women’s sport is thriving.
The growth in women’s AFL in the region has been a real success story where the Coffs Harbour Breakers went from foundation club in 2018 to Women’s Grand Final winners in 2020 as AFL North Coast Coordinator, Paul Taylor explains.
“AFL is one of the fastest growing sports for Women in the nation, and NSW/ACT has the second biggest participation rate in the country for AFL behind only Victoria.
“Female footy (girls and women) has experienced rapid growth on the North Coast since it was introduced in 2017 and another major surge is expected in 2021,” said Mr Taylor.
“When it comes to changing rooms, the AFL has a very basic standard to be classified as ‘female friendly’ but many facilities currently come up short.
“Simple things like the lack of doors on showers can be a barrier to female participation and this is something that the AFL has worked hard to address.
“The AFL welcomes the government’s efforts and support to remove barriers and increase female participation.”
Boambee Eagles FC Women’s Coach, Neil Witherdin welcomed the news and emphasised the importance of how the resources are allocated.
“It’s fantastic that funds are being invested into women’s sport but it’s very important they are spent wisely so the women get to see the benefits,” said Mr Witherdin.
“Grassroot clubs should be engaged in how the money is spent otherwise there’s a risk they will not be spent wisely and it’s important girls and women across the board benefit and not just at the elite level,” said Mr Witherdin, whose Eagles team have featured in the last two Women’s Grand Finals at C.ex Stadium.
Acting Minister for Sport Geoff Lee agreed the provision of new and improved female change rooms was a step that would encourage more women to step out on the court or field.
“In many areas of regional NSW there is a shortage of female dedicated change facilities and amenities, so this funding will be a huge win for women and girls who would have otherwise been deterred from playing sport.”
Minister for Women and Regional Youth Bronnie Taylor said women had been proudly stepping onto the pitch for years now and this next round of the Stronger Country Communities Fund would address a barrier for females when it came to entering local and regional sport.
“I know this funding will be warmly welcomed by female athletes in regional communities who will now face one less barrier to taking up a sport,” Mrs Taylor said.
“Clubs and community sport provide friendship, fitness and a lot of fun and I’m delighted that this funding has been made available as a means of boosting participation in women’s sport,” Mrs Taylor said.
The remaining $50 million of the Stronger Country Communities Fund Round Four will be made available for further high-quality community amenity and sports-related infrastructure projects to meet strong demand.
Applications for round four of the program will open from 1 May 2021.
Guidelines and information about eligible applicants will be available on the Regional Growth Fund website in coming months.
By David WIGLEY