Ash Barty has become just the second Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander woman to win the Wimbledon singles title, a feat that has been hailed as a monumental moment for Australian women athletes and the achievements of Indigenous Australians.
The 25-year-old defeated former world champion Karolina Plíšková with a nerve-wracking 6-3, 6-7, 6-3 on July 10.
Barty’s win came at the tail end of NAIDOC Week, an annual occasion, this year spanning July 4 to July 11, that aims to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Australia’s Indigenous peoples.
The week also strives to bring attention to the widespread inequality still faced by First Nations Australians compared to the nation’s non-Indigenous population, including significant life expectancy, poverty, health and education gaps.
Sociology researcher Adele Pavlidis and lecturer Marcus Woolombi Waters said the significance of Barty’s win during this week is profound.
"Barty’s success is a particularly significant one for First Nations Australians. She is one of only a handful of Indigenous women who are both sporting champions and household names,” Pavlidis and Woolombi Waters wrote for the Conversation. “We know there are high barriers to Indigenous women participating in sport and exercise, at both grassroots and elite levels. These include racism and the high costs of participating.”
.@ashbarty’s win is a historic moment for First Nations people and for Australian #womeninsports. It presents an opportunity to both celebrate and learn from this achievement.— UN Women Australia (@UNWomenAust) July 12, 2021
For Barty, showing Indigenous youth that they have just as much a right to be in centre court as anyone else is vital.
"My heritage is really important to me,” she told the Sydney Morning Herald. “I've always had that olive complexion and the squished nose, and I just think it’s important to do the best I can to be a good role model.”
Activists also hope Barty’s win will help draw attention to the sexism, abuse and harassment Australian women in sport face, particularly on social media, and the wider implications this kind of discrimination has for young girls across the country,
A 2019 report by Plan International showed Australian sportswomen face three times as many negative online comments as men, at 27% compared to 9%, with 23% of all negative comments being sexist in nature.
"This toxic online abuse can not only have severe consequences for the victim’s well-being and mental health, but also for girls and young women in the broader community who witness this despicable behaviour and receive the message that they are not welcome in this space,” Plan International Australia CEO Susanne Legena explained.
The Australian government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency shows Australian sport has a gender pay gap of 27% across corporate and administration roles, compared to the national average of 21.3% in all industries.