‘Play well, win well’: new Australian sports chair Kate Jenkins faces challenges and opportunities

The Australian Sport Commission (ASC) has appointed Kate Jenkins as its new board chair, replacing Josephine Sukkar, who was the first female chair appointed to the ASC board in 2021.


  • Lisa Gowthorp

    Associate Professor of Sport Management, Bond Business School, Bond University

As a lawyer and governance expert, Jenkins boasts a wealth of experience in sport, equality and cultural change – she was previously director of the Carlton Football Club and chair of Play by the Rules, an organisation dedicated to sport participation, equality and inclusion.

Jenkins was an ambassador for the 2020 T20 Women’s World Cup and the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup and participated in the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Independent Review of Gymnastics Australia in 2021.

Jenkins, a former Australian sex discrimination commissioner, is an advocate for human rights, gender equality and inclusiveness and believes the ASC has a national leadership role for all sports, and for all Australians.

So, what should Jenkins prioritise in her new role?

What is Jenkins’ vision with the ASC?

The ASC is the national government agency responsible for supporting and investing in all sport at all levels. It was responsible for more than A$222 million in sport-related grants last financial year.

Jenkins’ vision is for sport “to be safe, fair, accessible and inclusive for everyone. And with every athlete supported to reach their full potential.”

Two key ASC strategic focuses are “Play Well” and “Win Well” – Jenkins has already highlighted these two priority areas.

“Play Well” focuses on participation in sport by all Australians and safe, fair and inclusive opportunities for all Australians participating in sport. The strategy encourages lifelong involvement, building connections and transforming culture.

“Win Well” is the high performance sport strategy. It highlights the support and resources allocated to Australia’s elite athletes.

By winning well, the ASC believes Australia’s athletes can inspire a nation. At its heart is a commitment to performance with focus on a culture of care, prioritising integrity, fair play and pride.

What else must Jenkins and the ASC prioritise?

The new chair of the ASC must find a way to boost women’s sport participation, develop elite female sport pathways and ensure sustainability in women’s sport at the highest level.

There are signs things are improving. Following the Women’s World Cup, football NSW’s female registrations increased by 34%.

Australia now has seven professional women’s sport leagues and young girls can now see future opportunities in elite sport – not just in soccer but in traditionally male-dominated sports.

In the AFL, almost one in five registrations are now women. The NRL says women’s participation is the fastest growing area of the sport, while Cricket Australia has also recorded a 26% rise in female participation in 2023.

Despite the rise of women’s sporting leagues though, most female athletes still face a gender pay gap.

Australia’s female cricketers take home an average of $55,000 for competing in the Women’s National Cricket League. However, top female cricketers also competing in WBBL can earn retainers as high as $420,000.

AFLW players now earn around $50,000, with an increase to $82,000 expected by the end of 2027. The minimum wage for Australian Super Netball players is $46,000, with the average wage recently rising to $89,211.

In contrast, male national cricketers earn on average $951,000, while male AFL players earn an average $450,000.

Jenkins, previously an Australian sex discrimination commissioner, should also be well placed to fight the discrimination and harassment prevalent in women’s sport.

Women participating in male-dominated sports often receive harassment – both in real life and online. They often have to put up with inappropriate comments about their appearance, gender identity or sexual orientation.

Cultural change is needed within sport clubs if younger generations of females want to participate more regularly in these sports.

A brighter future?

Jenkins believes women’s sport is at a turning point and attributes much of this to the Matildas’ historic World Cup result.

The Matildas united the nation at the 2023 World Cup in Australia. Despite not making the final, history was made – the quarterfinal against France was watched by 7.2 million Australians, which was the biggest television audience for a sports event in more than two decades.

The legacy of that World Cup is seen by some as new era for women’s sport in Australia – Jenkins believes the tournament is an example of how gender equality can benefit everyone.

However, she acknowledges there is still some opposition to women’s sport in Australia but examples like the Matildas’ success create positive conversations and change.

Jenkins has a mission to advance gender equality on the sports field and is well positioned to address the current inequalities women in sport face. After her appointment to the ASC, she said:

“If we can harness the opportunities ahead of us, I’m confident Australia’s sporting system can be the world’s best.”

There is a long way to go to address the inequalities in women’s sport in Australia but with Jenkins at the helm, the future is looking brighter.

The Conversation

Lisa Gowthorp does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

/Courtesy of The Conversation. View in full here.