<big>Rugby league’s Independent Commission member Catherine Harris to target mothers</big>
Claire harvey The Sunday Telegraph November 27, 201112:00AM
RUGBY league needs to win the hearts of western Sydney mums to challenge the rise of AFL, says businesswoman Catherine Harris, the only woman appointed to rugby league’s new Independent Commission.
Harris said AFL is raising its profile in the west and league should regard it as an opportunity to maximise its family-friendly appeal - particularly to the mothers who decide what their children play.
“I think the AFL’s doing a bloody good job and they seem to get a lot of good press - and I understand that people think it’s a threat,” Harris told The Sunday telegraph.
“But I think our figures are showing that league in NSW is still right there and will increasingly be right there if it does it right. It’s very had to switch people. It’s a lot harder than people think.”
Harris said the rise of AFL in the west would be healthy for all codes.
"It generally raises people’s interest in sport, it means the facilities are used more and so they then become more viable.
“I know from my experience (as a board member) with the Sydney Cricket Ground, the more viable all these sports are, the better it is for sport.”
Mothers are the crucial target market, she said.
“I think clubs should have women on their boards, as I’ve said to all the clubs, because women, let’s face it, are the ones who when the kids are five decide whether the kids are playing league, soccer or AFL or whatever,” she said.
One of league’s problems is that it has ignored the participation of women.
"One of the most senior people in rugby league recently said to me, ‘I went to this community awards thing and I just didn’t realise how many women were involved as volunteers, I just didn’t realise’. I said to him ‘That’s the point’.
“He said ‘the game couldn’t run without women’. One of the most senior people didn’t realise. I think just having the presence of a woman broadens your perspective.”
Harris will be heavily involved in promoting women’s involvement in league when the Independent Commission takes over, expected to be before January 1.
This month, she attended a workshop training session for women at all levels in the game at Killcare on the NSW Central Coast, partly funded by an Australian Sports Commission grant to promote women in the game.
One of the plans is to create a formal mentoring system and a network of “male champions” within the game to help improve women’s skills and prospects for promotion.
Harris does not want quotas for women on club boards or active discrimination in favour of women, but she said rugby league could be a difficult place for women to work without overt supporters.
“I don’t think the mentors have to be, or even should be, women,” she said. “They need to have the experience to wisely guide, and the ability to be a champion.”
A long-time Wests Tigers fan, Harris believes the commission’s job is to make the game’s factions work together, and thus fight off the challenges of other codes. “I think it says everything about what’s a problem with the game at the moment that everybody has their sectional interests,” she said.
"(Independent Commission chair) John Grant says all the time we are working for the interests of the game. The game is the young junior players, the game is development, the game is the community of fans, the game is the stars, the game is the clubs, the administrators, the referees.
“The Commission won’t be able to do heaps in the first few years, but it will always bring everything back to a focus of the game.”