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The end of male domination in sport: Why Canberra should lead the world when it comes to women’s sports

In The End of Men: And the Rise of Women, Hanna Rosin argues that with respect to education, work, health and other measures of power and success, American women have not only drawn equal with men, but are sprinting past them.

Her point about post-industrial societies being well suited to woman also applies in Australia.

When it comes to sports, however, men are and always will be on top. At least that's what I used to think.

The Rio Olympics mark a small but significant shift in who we regard as icons of skill and strength. For the first time there were more women in the Australian Olympic team than men. Anna Meares carried our flag into the stadium, taking over from Lauren Jackson who was the flagbearer in 2012. And the chief of mission was Kitty Chiller.

In this context, the ACT has the potential to lead the nation and even the world in terms of women's sports. According to the Bureau of Statistics, we have consistently had the highest levels of grassroots sports participation across the country: in 2011-12 about 82 per cent of men played sport at least once per year, and at 79 per cent women were neck-and-neck with them.

At the elite level, the Canberra Cannons went under in 2003 and there have been several unsuccessful attempts to establish a Canberra men's team in the A-League. All the while, the Canberra Capitals have gradually built up their supporter base and profile. The same could be said of Canberra United FC in the W-League and the ACT Meteors. After only eight years, the Canberra Roller Derby League also has a strong following.

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With respect to sports administration, this month ACT Sport and Recreation Minister Yvette Berry legislated to ensure that all Canberra sporting organisations receiving public funding must have at least a 40 per cent female representation on their boards.

The question then becomes: Why is the ACT government still giving millions of dollars to men's elite sport? Why back old stallions and geldings when there are faster mares and fairer fillies out there?

The Brumbies, Raiders and GWS Giants all have extensive corporate apparatuses and resources at their disposal. There remain serious questions about whether the Brumbies deserved a $7.5 million tax concession to facilitate the development of their former Griffith headquarters. Moreover, it is worth considering what could be achieved in local women's sport with the $23 million over 10 years that the Barr government has so eagerly paid to the GWS for them to play three games a year at Manuka Oval.

Ideally, of course, we could invest into all levels and forms of sport. But in 2015-16, only $48.9 million was allocated to sport and recreation in the ACT budget. So if we are going to spend millions of dollars at a time to support men's elite sport, why not give at least the same amount to elite women athletes so that they can not only break through the "grass ceiling" but reconfigure the playing field?

The arguments against equal and additional funding for women's sport revolve around two points. Firstly, not as many people watch it. And secondly, female athletes are generally not as good as males.

However, men's sports attract eyeballs and dollars because of their incumbency in the popular media, a dominance that rightfully shows signs of weakening. Moreover, people watch and enjoy sport for the passion, drama and excitement, which is to a large extent independent of performance level. If we were only ever interested in the best, then the only Australian sports that we would regularly watch are Aussie Rules and perhaps the State of Origin.

Hopefully, the end of male domination in sports will mean that we will no longer have to go over these well-worn arguments.

In the meanwhile, why not pay the Matildas a living wage so that they can train, live and play in the ACT? Small grants could go to women's teams so that they could stream their games to the world free-of-charge. Junior players – boys and girls – could be offered free season tickets to major female sporting events and competitions. We could give our existing women's teams a boost of confidence and stature while pushing for the inclusion of new Canberran teams in the national netball and AFL leagues. Other options would be to establish world-class events in cycling, triathlon, athletics or tennis.

With the end of men not far away, such supporting of women's sports is not so much a matter of charity or even equality; but rather, doing what is logical and in the interest of all sports-lovers.

Kim Huynh teaches international relations as the Australian National University.