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No longer different: Novelty factor long gone for women working in league

Women in League round is a complicated one for me because it’s one of the few times each year it’s pointed out that I’m different.

It’s obviously nice to acknowledge the wonderful women working in and for rugby league, but the game has come so far in a relatively short amount of time. 

I’ve been covering the NRL in Sydney for eight seasons. When I first started it was quite different.

I moved to the city from Wagga Wagga, where I was one of very few women covering sport in the local media.

Coming to Sydney, I was hired by a female sports editor, at a magazine where the chief sub-editor was also a woman, as was one of the two designers on a small staff of seven.

Play your part this Harvey Norman Women in League Round

Almost half of the staff were female.

And if it wasn’t for our headshots and bylines in the pages of that magazine, no one would have guessed. 

There were no pink covers and certainly no articles written about the hottest players in special editions "for the ladies". 

The women in that office knew and loved rugby league as much as I do, but even then there were very few others visibly working in the game. 

Often I was the only woman in a press box, but it was only ever obvious to me when it was pointed out. 

Once a colleague asked me if I really did enjoy rugby league and if I knew all the rules, which sucked.

Isabelle Kelly celebrates a try for NSW.
Isabelle Kelly celebrates a try for NSW. ©Jason O'Brien/NRL Photos

Little did he know I was brought home from the hospital as a newborn in Roosters booties knitted by my nan. So no, I didn’t have a choice but to love this game.

I certainly wasn’t one of the first women in NRL media and in no way am I a trailblazer. 

Great women have been covering this game long before there was an NRL round to acknowledge them for it.

That, I guess, is due to the people that work in this game.

For the most part they’re passionate, smart and hardworking and the only way to get respect is to be passionate and smart and hardworking too. 

In 2014 if I was one of the few women covering games, today it’s far from the case. 

At most media conferences there are a handful of us, all with different beliefs and cultures and backgrounds.

We’re all just a part of the melting pot that is the game.

When people learn what I do for a living there’s usually one of three responses. 

The first is the worst (and thankfully the rarest) where they take it as a personal challenge to their own understanding of rugby league and make it their mission to prove they know more than me. Sometimes they do.

The second is a curiosity about what it means to work in a male-dominated field, which is always assumed to be tougher than it actually is now.

The third, and my favourite, is indifference.

My hope is that one day a woman being involved in sport on any level or in any position is no longer a novelty, but the norm.

It won’t be pointed out or celebrated, just people being acknowledged for their contributions.

Too often a woman’s place in rugby league is seen as tokenism when the reality is the exact opposite. 

It’s just what happens when we celebrate diversity.

Pamela Whaley is a sports reporter for Australian Associated Press and a former editor of Big League magazine.

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