Citius, altius, fortius. The Olympic motto translates as faster, higher, and stronger – is there a more virtuous apophthegm? It strives to push the capabilities of humanity, and 2,794 years after the first Olympics (in 776 BC) it is still managing to do so.
The long afterglow of the 31st edition, held in Rio de Janeiro in August 2016, continues to break down traditional boundaries – particularly for women. And given recent developments, by the time the next Games begins, in Tokyo, there is likely to be even greater gender equality in sport, and beyond.
Indeed, there was much reason to celebrate earlier in January, when Rugby Australia announced a new and unprecedented “collective bargaining agreement” (CBA) had been struck that guarantees the women’s and men’s sevens and Super Rugby starters will be handed the same entry-level salary of A$44,500 (£25,260).
In addition, female players have a new pregnancy policy built into the CBA, which again marks a huge advancement for women’s sport. This pay parity may seem like toddlers’ steps to some, but these are giant strides from mankind, to bastardise Neil Armstrong’s famous words. It truly is epochal. And the progressive approach by Rugby Australia has elevated the women’s sevens team to another level, in more ways than one.
At the HSBC Sydney Sevens on Friday – fittingly, Australia Day – the buoyed hosts, playing across the same three days at a tournament with men for the first time, looked out of this world. They progressed to Saturday’s quarter finals from Pool A after amassing 122 unanswered points, versus first Spain (29-0), then Papua New Guinea (50-0), and finally France (43-0).
Their dominance continued: on Saturday they defeated Spain, again (29-0), and marched through to Sunday’s final by bettering Russia (31-0). The finale, against reigning HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series champions and great trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand, was just as one sided. It ended 31-0. Their record at Sydney read: played six; won six; 213 points scored; zero points conceded. In sum, they were simply sensational.
On the eve of the Sydney competition – the second stop in the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series – Shannon Parry, the co-captain of Australia’s team, told me that this game-changing salary equality was precipitated by her side’s triumph in Rio, when her sport was included in the Olympics for the first time. The 28-year old said the success had improved the general attitude towards women’s sport in her country, led to greater nourishment of rugby in particular, and paved the way for the pay parity.
“That gold medal has been fantastic for the growth of women’s rugby in Australia, and it has helped develop rugby at all levels, from the grass roots to the top,” Ms Parry posited. “Now we have a clear pathway for women’s sevens and 15s players, with the introduction of the Super W, which is starting in March, as well as the new Aon University Sevens Series. It is clear that youngsters can make it all the way to become an Olympic champion or win the World Cup.”
Two days before the start of the Sydney Sevens, a timely HSBC Women in Sports survey showed how team sport is lifting women’s performance in the workplace around Australia. All but 2 per cent of 684 women, across all states and territories, agreed that playing regular team sports lifts their efficiency, confidence and ability to work in a team.
Sharni Williams, the other co-captain of Australia’s side, is hopeful that with more investment likely to be pumped in to women’s sport, following Rugby Australia’s announcement about the new CBA, times are changing for the better.
“Everybody is talking about equality at the moment, and it is so exciting that our nation is leading the way with our sport,” she told me. “The pay parity will make Australia thrive. We are proud to be the first union to achieve equal pay. I’m sure others will follow – in sport and other areas.”
Faster, higher, stronger, and fairer. We have plenty to thank the Olympic Games for. And long may it continue.