Michelle Payne and the year of reckoning for women in Australian sport

Michelle PayneBy Tracey Holmes

Updated

It has taken 155 years and an obstinate trainer who wasn’t going to ditch his rider simply because she was the wrong sex, but a female jockey has won the Melbourne Cup. Still, not everyone has cottoned on to the change in women’s sport that Michelle Payne and others represent. Tracey Holmes writes.

“And everyone else can get stuffed.”

Too right, Michelle. It’s 2015. Time to get with the program and the program is that champion athletes are champion athletes – male or female.

Victorian jockey Michelle Payne has etched her name into the record books. She won this country’s most prized horse race. That, itself, puts her in an elite club. The fact that she’s the first female to win the Melbourne Cup puts it in a category all on its own – a record that cannot be erased.

Payne has proven herself to be another of Australia’s great athletes who have ignored the doubters, pushed through the barriers and smashed another glass ceiling on the way to that mythical sports land known as “the level playing field”.

The ABC’s Gerard Whateley called yesterday’s winning moment like this:

“A female jockey has won the Melbourne Cup.”

Yes, indeed. It has taken 155 years and an obstinate trainer who wasn’t going to shaft his champion rider simply because she was the wrong sex in the eyes of those who pay his salary.

Could those owners who wanted to kick Payne off their horse and give the ride to a male jockey please step forward? No. I didn’t think so.

 

As is tradition the jockey was interviewed only moments after crossing the finish line on a 100-1 outsider, Prince of Penzance. She was remarkably calm given she’d just won the race every Australian jockey dreams of and so few achieve. In that, she’s no different to male jockeys: the Beadmans, the Munces, the Cassidys and the Olivers.

After dismounting she was interviewed again. This time her comments were as memorable as her ride.

To think that (trainer) Darren Weir has given me a go and it’s such a chauvinistic sport, I know some of the owners were keen to kick me off, and John Richards and Darren stuck strongly with me…and I can’t say how grateful I am to them.

I want to say to everyone else, get stuffed, because women can do anything and we can beat the world.

Could those owners who wanted to kick Payne off their horse and give the ride to a male jockey please step forward?

No. I didn’t think so.

When you work up the courage please do identify yourselves and we’ll spin you around and point you back towards the turn of the century where you’ll feel a lot more comfortable. Not last century, the one before – where one of the founders of modern sport, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, also thought there was no place for women in the physically demanding sports arena.

Payne’s ride was impeccable. Last out of the blocks but ridden to perfection on a horse nobody rated, well almost nobody – Payne’s brother Stevie, the strapper, had $10 each way. She was not intimidated by the favourites, or the reputations of the 23 other jockeys; nor the doubters in her own camp.

Her demeanour only moments after riding past the winning post was more controlled than many male jockey’s that have been in the same position and yet, there was this…

“Payne was ecstatic after the race and could hardly contain her excitement.” What? Who?

Not the remarkably coherent jockey the world saw interviewed on Channel 7 yesterday. That description sounds like some seven year old at the Easter show that’s about to pee his/her pants after a ride on a ferris wheel.

Compare it to the way other Melbourne Cup victories have been reported in recent years:

Ryan Moore, on Protectionist in 2014:

“Moore has long been regarded by many as the best jockey in the world and the 31-year-old Englishman showed he had few peers with a nerveless ride…” Regarded. Few peers. Nerveless.

Damien Oliver, on Fiorente in 2013:

“It was a personal triumph for jockey Damien Oliver who was suspended over a betting charge last year, and controversially allowed back to riding in time for this year’s spring carnival.” Personal triumph.

Glenn Boss, on Makybe Diva in 2003:

“Boss said he had enjoyed a perfect run on the five-year-old mare…” Perfect run.

More than 100 years after modern day sports founders declared that sport was not good for women’s health the media still hasn’t quite cottoned on that patronising language is a concept that’s also a little out dated.

The BBC’s racing correspondent, Cornelius Lysaght, saw it this way, “To have beaten Frankie Dettori, the most famous jockey in the world…can only add to the sense of achievement. A red-letter day for the once oh-so-macho world of Aussie sport.”

That once oh-so-macho world of Aussie sport has faced a reckoning in 2015. Teams that have demanded a fair share of the international stage’s limelight this year have included the Matildas, the Hockeyroos, the Diamonds, the Jillaross and the Southern Stars. Individuals who’ve beaten the rest by being the best include kayakers, surfers, swimmers and Paralympic sprinters.

Along with supportive player unions, and in some cases governing bodies, female athletes have this year demanded better pay conditions, negotiated new broadcast commitments and Olympic games rights holders, Channel 7, have even committed to a women’s sports channel.

Australia’s female athletes are at the top of their game right now. Not because they are female, because they are good at what they do. And yesterday at Flemington Michelle Payne did it better than anyone else.

Tracey Holmes is a senior reporter/presenter at ABC’s NewsRadio. She focuses on sport and its wider implications.

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