A lot of top sports people duck for cover when the term role model is bestowed on them – but not cricket and soccer star Ellyse Perry.
The humble dual international tells host Sarah Harris in the second instalment of Game Changers – The Carousel’s hit video series about inspiring leaders – that she’s honoured to be helping drive an unprecedented interest in women’s sport across Australia.
“Last year, and this year, have been a bit of a watershed moment for women’s sport,” says Ellyse, who captained the Sydney Sixers to win last summer’s Big Bash title in Perth before record crowds.
“I do think it’s been building really slowly and progressively for the last 10 or so years, and there’s been a lot of call for change. And a lot of investment and action taken towards really build women’s sport and making it bigger and providing and more opportunities for females to be elite pro athletes.
“It’s just reached a tipping point and a lot of codes are seeing the importance of women in their games as spectators, and participants and players. It’s really starting to show that in a lot of ways the sky’s the limit for female sport and there’s a lot of growth and capacity to take it even further.”
Sarah Harris says that if anyone would know about disparity between men’s and women’s sport, it is Ellyse – she’s married to UK-based professional Aussie rugby star Matt Toomua.
But Ellyse, 26, says she’s more excited about doing her bit to close the long-standing gaps, rather than dwelling on the differences.
“When I first came into elite sport, and for a number of years, a lot of time you do almost ride off the coat tails of the male athletes in the sense that you’re often sharing the same sponsors, or you play matches before them, so you’re kind of the sideshow to them, and a lot of the time female athletes are compared to male athletes instead of just being seen in their own right,” reflects Ellyse.
“But I think there is generally a huge tide of change, looking at the number of companies that now do want to be involved in women’s sport in terms of sponsorship and investing.”
Ellyse says a prime example of that is the support the Sydney Sixers now get from their new major sponsor Priceline, which has an exclusive partnership with the women’s side of the club.
“One of the most exciting things about that is just how committed they are to us as team but also to women’s sport,” she tells Sarah.
“As an extension of that the Priceline Sisterhood Foundation is a wonderful initiative by Priceline that supports a number of charities and very much related to female issues as well.”
Ellyse also opens up to Sarah about the issue of life after elite sport in the wake of the recent Grant Hackett scandal, in which the former swimming star was arrested after a “mental breakdown” and a reported scuffle with his brother.
“You can reach some pretty incredible highs as an athlete and there are some experiences that are probably really hard to replicate post career so I think that’s a real struggle in terms of coming to terms with that once you finish up,” admits Ellyse.
“I certainly don’t’ have all the answers. I feel a little bit like I’m at high school again when people ask you want you want to study at uni and you’re not quite sure. It almost feels like that post sport. I think one of the amazing things about sport is the opportunities you get outside of sport, and the people you’ve met along the way, and the things you experience that you probably wouldn’t have otherwise in your lifetime. It gives you hints about what you might want to do.”
While she figures out her next step, Ellyse says she’s just happy with the lifestyle their respective sports have afforded her and Matt, and they’re both eager to make the most of it while it lasts.
She loves the chance his UK base gives her to travel, experience new cultures, and play for an English side in the Aussie off-season.
As for her message to her legions of younger fans, across both soccer and cricket, that’s an easier one for Ellyse to answer.
“Keep having a go at it. A lot of my friends who were playing high level sport just stopped playing sport altogether in year nine or 10 and it was almost because it became uncool or they wanted to go watch boys play sport, or go party all the time in the weekend.
“I’m not saying you can’t do that but make sure you have a balance there and do the things you want to do and are capable of as well.
“It’s not about being the best at anything but making the most of those opportunities – and we’re getting more-and-more of those now.”
Ellyse is the first subject in an exciting new series of Game Changers, which will be rolled out on the site over the next few weeks.
The others interviewed by Studio 10 host Sarah Harris are: Basil Nuredini and Darren Stephens, co-founders of revolutionary new stock picking site Trading Room Pro, author, lifestyle doctor and speaker Dr Karen Philip, pharmacist Gai Williams on her amazing new cure for colic, and our own Savvy Shopper columnist Jo Munro.
You can also check out the previous Game Changer interview with Ita Buttrose, here.
The Carousel would like to thank Cricket Australia, the Sixers and Priceline for footage used in the Game Changers video.