Tackling inequality in sport

Angela’s charge to change the culture of sport.

Angela Pippos

Angela Pippos is a die-hard sports fan and dedicated to her ‘religion’, feminism.

She is also a sports journalist, presenter, author, documentary maker and gender equality advocate.

In the 90s, she was one of very few women employed in sports journalism and, over a career spanning more than 20 years, has experienced and witnessed sexism and inequality in sport.

In more recent years, things have started to change.

“The best thing about living in this era is that we are challenging the old attitudes, we are challenging the old status quo,” said Angela.

“The word equality is now used in conversations around sport – that sounds like a really small thing, but for sport it’s big, because for so many years you couldn’t even mention equality in the same sentence as sport.”

For Angela, these changes have also seen the return of her optimistic and invincible nine-year-old self, and her belief that it is possible to change the world.

Angela has always loved sport. Preferring running shoes over pointe shoes, she would disappear from ballet class to watch netball played on nearby courts. She was very close to her brother Chris, so when he began to learn Aussie Rules Football, she also became besotted with the game. “We took stats for each other’s games. We really were obsessed with it, and after we had played our respective sports, we would go to Norwood oval and watch Norwood play,” she said.

It was at University that Angela discovered other passions, including feminism. She became involved in student politics, activism and the student newspaper, On Dit. It was through these activities she met fellow students Natasha Stott Despoja AO (former politician), Annabel Crab (Australian political journalist, commentator and television host), and Samantha Maiden (journalist).

“It must have been second year and I was studying feminist history and I just loved it. Learning about the different waves of feminism and the role that South Australian women played in suffrage really inspired me.

“And then you’re hanging around with Annabel and Natasha, a really cool group of switched on, feisty women. I was hooked and it gave me a really solid platform to head out into the world,” Angela said.Completing honours in politics at the University of Adelaide, and then a Bachelor of Journalism at the University of South Australia, Angela felt ready to take on the world.

Angela Pippos
“I felt the pressure to be better than them and I had to work doubly hard to be respected.”Angela Pippos

The plan was to become a political journalist working in Canberra, but her path took a different turn.

Angela became a researcher for ABC Adelaide’s 7.30 Report. When the show was axed, she moved into the newsroom as a general reporter. Because of her good sporting knowledge, she started to cover more sport than anything else, and people started to notice her talent.

Melbourne’s head of ABC News asked her to apply for a specialist sports journalist position. It was too good an opportunity to turn down, so she applied, got the job and moved to Melbourne in 1997. Angela loved her work, but as one of only a handful of women in sports journalism at that time, she’d underestimated the challenges she would encounter. 

“I was often the only woman at a media conference, so that came with the pressure of feeling like I was representing all women. So I didn’t want to let the team down by asking silly questions, even though men all around me were asking silly questions.

“I felt the pressure to be better than them and I had to work doubly hard to be respected,” she said. 

Her best defence was to quickly develop a robust sense of humour and get on with the job, which she did, working in television as a sports presenter for ABC for more than a decade. She has also appeared, co- hosted and presented on ABC Radio Melbourne, Sport 927, and been a columnist and feature writer for the AFL website and The Sunday Age.

Angela’s tipping point, where she finally felt she had enough runs on the board in her career to speak out, was empowered by a couple of events away from the sporting world. The first being then Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech in parliament in 2012. 

“I saw so much of myself in her when she stood up in parliament and did that. 

“I saw myself rapidly moving towards that point where I would be able to stand in front of my peers and say the same thing,” Angela said.

The other significant moment was the birth of her son Francis in 2013. “It’s really hard to explain, but I think what happened was that I was no longer the centre of my universe. It started to matter less what people thought of me, my focus was on Francis and the world that he was going to grow up in,” she said.

Angela Pippos

In her second book, Breaking the Mould: Taking A Hammer To Sexism In Sport, Angela describes the many events in 2015 that created the conditions for movement towards positive change. These include Michelle Payne’s historic Melbourne Cup win, and the Matilda’s (Australian women’s soccer team) stand for more respect and a decent base salary.

The introduction of AFL Women's (AFLW) in 2017 was, for Angela, the most exciting thing to happen in sport in her lifetime. 

“What I love about AFLW is that it’s okay to be physical, but it also creates another version of what it means to be a girl or woman. 

“I see the women of AFLW as the modern day suffragists as they have stared convention in the face and won. That’s after a long period of ridicule and being made to feel like oddities and unnatural for wanting to play the game,” she said.

Angela has written, directed and produced two television documentaries about the rise of women in Australian Rules football. She has a third documentary in the pipeline.

“I feel like I’ve had a career revival really because things have started to change for women and it’s given me a real spring in my step to continue to change the culture of sport so women can be at their sporting best.”

Story by Kelly Brown
Photos by Meaghan Coles

Tagged in lumen, lumen Summer 2019