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R-E-S-P-E-C-T might make sport as thrilling as the ballet for girls

When I was young, I loathed PE classes. Hated school sports days. Whenever I could, I’d fake a sickie so that I wouldn’t have to suffer through a soccer game or cricket match. It wasn’t that I was un-athletic — at that point in my life, I’d been accepted into a pre-professional program run by The Australian Ballet and was training to be a classical dancer. In the ballet studio, I relished the focus, discipline and muscle-deep pleasure of pushing my body to its limits. It was both physically and mentally challenging. Ballet may be an art form that lionises grace and femininity, but its training and performance is as gruelling as any sport.

Australia's Ashley Barty is now world No. 1.

Australia’s Ashley Barty is now world No. 1.Credit:PA

Looking back, I know why I loved ballet and hated sport. It wasn’t so much about the actual practice as it was the culture. Ballet has a long history of supporting and encouraging athletically gifted women — female dancers dominate every ballet company; they get top billing and are rightly celebrated. By contrast, Australian sporting culture seemed hopelessly male-dominated. At school, my PE teachers casually and consistently spent more time nurturing boys. On television, coverage of women’s games was relegated to the middle of the night — or wasn’t shown at all. It wasn’t for lack of interest that I shied away from other sports. It was that I couldn’t picture myself finding a place in it.

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But perhaps times have changed. In the last 24 hours, I’ve watched Hannah Green’s remarkable poise as she sailed through the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship to win by a single shot. Surfer Sally Fitzgibbons became the new world champion in the final of World Surf League’s Rio Pro in Brazil. And the extraordinary Ashleigh Barty — just a fortnight after claiming her first major singles title at the French Open — became the world’s No. 1 women’s player after triumphing at the Birmingham Classic.

As if three world-records aren’t enough, we’ve also seen cliff-diver Rhiannan Iffland set a new when she won her fourth straight event in the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, and although the Matildas hopes of getting to the World Cup were dashed after their devastating loss against Norway, nothing can take away from Sam Kerr’s mastery on the field. To score four goals in a single World Cup match is undeniably an incredible sporting achievement.

Australian teenage girls are still dropping out of sport at a disappointing rate. But with so many of our athletes rising to the top of their fields, I can only hope that today’s young women will begin to see sport as a much broader church — a place where women’s athletic excellence is given the same respect at men’s (it goes without saying that I mean this on a fiscal level as well). Given the events of the last 24 hours, I feel optimistic that Australia is heading into a golden era for women in sport. And, like the thrill of a perfectly executed fouetté, it’s been electrifying to watch

Nadia Bailey is a writer and editor.

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