Team Gender Diversity Thriving on the Concrete Flatlands of Roller Hockey

Words by: James Chesters

It’s Saturday afternoon in Bayswater. Showers earlier in the day have passed, and at the bowls club’s concrete slab rival players from Perth Glory Holes and Roleystone Henges are working together to brush water off the rink so they can play.

There’s few sports where you find players pulling together like the SRHL, but Perth’s street hockey scene isn’t like other sports. Their self-organising attitude and progressive approach to gender is just part of the glue that has seen the league grow to over 100 teams in only three years.

Casey Causley has been playing for two Bayswater teams – the Barracudas and the Bayswatermelon Breezers – since they were  formed earlier this year. She says players love SRHL for how it is. “Many of us are attracted to it when we weren’t attracted to other sports… I don’t think the same formula would work for other sports. This is an organised sport for disorganised people.”

SRHL also has an important distinction from more mainstream sports. When other sports have an unspoken assumption that women and men can’t play together, it’s normal in SRHL. The subject of mixed teams and gender equality also raises a wider discussion about women in sport.

Jarrad Robb plays for North Perth Bald Beavers and the Roleystone Henges, and has strong opinions “As far as I’m concerned it shows that when you self organise something you can make up the rules, and you don’t have the same kind of weird gender structures that come into force even in junior organised sports.

“If it’s allowed to happen organically why wouldn’t men and women compete together?”

Why is it that women’s cricket teams and soccer teams win sporting world cups, but receive less funding or recognition than men? Causley says says that bringing up the pay gap is opening a can of worms, and women being paid less than men is ridiculous. At the same time, she says, sponsorship and funding drives player income – so pay is less about skill, and more what people care about consuming.

Robb doesn’t sit on the fence about it, either, saying the lack of equal pay is “bullshit.”

“How can you expect women’s sports to grow their audience to a point where more money flows in when it’s shut out of the media?” Robb asks, but admits he’s pleased that the Matildas “are finally getting attention, given they’re currently our best international sports team.”

SRHL league founder Eamonn Lourey says controlling sports bodies and TV channels don’t market and promote women’s sport enough, but agrees with Causley, saying there equally “needs to be a change in mindset by consumers before equal pay can be achieved.”

Robb and Causley both agree that some of the best players in the SRHL are women. “I definitely think that the girls can compete with the boys,” Causley says, “As with a lot of things it’s about attitude, skill level and drive.” Lourey is in no doubt either, saying in mixed team games, women “stick it to the men.”

Robb says he is often “frustrated” with other mixed sports. Along with his hockey teams, he also plays for two five-a-side soccer teams, and says there are strict male female quotas because otherwise teams “field only guys, or one female player and leave her out entirely.”

It’s not unusual in soccer to see teams put a female player out of the way in goals, Robb says, so there can be an additional man on the pitch – something he calls out as both sexist and cheating.

Mixed teams are so commonplace in the SHRL, teams just put their players on and the mix takes care of itself. There also exist female-only teams, whom Causley says have a different style of play to the mixed games.

What’s next for the SRHL? Lourey says he would love to have a playing facility they can call their own, he describes a modern day flip on the traditional bowls club, but with sports more relevant to Gen Y in 2016.

“By 2066 I want to be retired,” Lourey says “pottering around a suburban roller hockey club, cooking meals, pouring beers, and looking after the joint for the young players that are coming through the sport.