The MCG is a shrine…It is to this city what the Opera House is to Sydney and the Eiffel Tower to Paris and the Statute of Liberty is to New York. It symbolises Melbourne to the world. It inspires reverence.
- Greg Baum Fairfax Media.
The Melbourne Cricket Ground is one of Melbourne’s oldest landmarks and was built as tribute to men's sport, a temple at which we worship our male sporting heroes. Known affectionately as the “G”, it is an internationally acclaimed stadium that is synonymous with Australian sport. Locally it is considered the heart of AFL and the birthplace of Australian cricket, despite the fact that it excluded women’s cricket until 2012. In the lead up to the AFL grand final you may want to take a quick look at the history of our MCG and its tenuous relationship with women.
The Melbourne Cricket Ground is owned by the Victorian Government. The current site was granted to the MCC in 1853 for the purpose of men’s cricket. The MCC Trust was appointed to manage the grounds for public use and in 1859 the first season of football was played there. The Melbourne Football Club was originally a separate organisation but in 1889 the MCC assumed control. At this time, the MCC had 2,000 male members and was the home to the Australian Men’s National Cricket team, the Victorian Men’s Cricket team and the Melbourne Football Club.
The MCC has always been the foremost promoter of sport in Australia. This statement was taken from the MCC website. In truth, however the MCC has been always been the fervent promoter of men’s sport and did little to further women’s sport prior to 2006.
Whilst women have always been allowed to visit the MCG, initially sportswomen could not play there or become a member. 1934 was probably first time women set foot on the field. The Victorian Women’s Centennial Sports Carnival was held at the MCG, which included a cricket match against a visiting English side. However, this significant event in women’s sporting history is not mentioned on the either MCC or MGC website.
In 1956 the MCG was used as the main arena for Olympic Games in which there were 3,314 participating athletes, including 376 women. This may have been only the second time in history that sportswomen competed at the MCG.
It was during 1984 that the MCC admitted its first females into the club, of which there were 15,000 members at the time. A year later the MGC opened its doors to the Sport Australia Hall of Fame that recognises the achievements of both Australian sportsmen and sportswomen. This seems quite late considering that that the MCG was a public facility and women have been playing team sports in Australia from as early as 1874.
Cricket was one of the few sports that was considered appropriate for women in the Victorian era and many of the early women’s cricket clubs were attached to factories and other workplaces. In 1905 they set up their own cricket association (only 3 years after being granted the right to vote). In 1931 the Australian Women’s Cricket Council (AWCC) was formed and in 1978 the Australian Women’s team won their first World Cup. At this point, the MCG did not have any association with women’s sport or the AWCC.
In fact, it was probably due to the existence of the women’s association that allowed the MCC to remain a male only organisation for as long as it did. Women were most likely referred to the Victoria Women’s Cricket Association (VWCA) and the governing women’s sport association of the time. As women had their own organisation there was no pressing need to include them in the MCC. Unfortunately, their exclusion from the MCC meant that woman’s sport would have no place at Melbourne’s most iconic sporting stadium for decades to come.
It was the Commonwealth Games coming to Melbourne in 2006 that really changed the way women were represented at the MCG. In the lead up to the Games, the MCG was redeveloped and the first female statues were erected outside the stadium; a tribute to Betty Cuthbert who was one of the few women to complete in the 1956 Olympics; and a statue of Shirley Strickland. Most notably, 2006 also saw the establishment of the first MCC Women’s Club promote the interests of women within the MCC.
By 2014 the VWAC had merged with Victorian Cricket meaning that the MCG is now also home to the Victorian women’s cricket team. 140 years after the first recorded women’s cricket match in Victoria, women’s cricket was welcomed into what is considered the birthplace of Australian cricket.
These days women play an active role at the MCG both on and off the field. Starting at the top, with the governance of the MCG, women make up three of the 14 MCC Committee membership and three of nine the Government appointed MCG Trust members. In the ABC Grandstand commentary box this year, there is a 50-50 gender split within the team. On the field, since 2012, we have seen women’s cricket matches and female umpires in AFL games.
More broadly the culture of the MCG has evolved to include both women and families. The crowd, once a testosterone filled, alcohol fuelled throng, has given way to generations of families, thanks to the introduction of increased security, dry zones, pram friendly access, baby change facilities and diverse food options.
On the horizon we look to the inclusion of women’s AFL into the MCG family. In 2013 the first all-women’s football match was played under the AFL banner, followed by the creation of the AFL Women’s League (AFLW) in 2016. The AFLW is currently being played at local grounds, starting with a grassroots campaign to create a following. Hopefully it won't be too long before we see the women’s AFL season included in the MCG line up.