People are often rattled by female sports fans. There’s just something about the sight of a woman who’s enthusiastically cheering for her team that unsettles some people. But the good news is – or bad, depending on your viewpoint – there are hundreds of thousands of female sports fans out there, and they have no intention of curbing their enthusiasm.

Yes, they yell and scream at the TV. Yes, they understand what’s going on. And no, they don’t need you to explain the rules to them. It’s pretty straightforward, really.

It’s often tough for women who steer towards anything that’s not stereotypically “feminine”. If you’re a woman and you genuinely love sport, as I do, you probably spend a lot of time attempting to prove you are genuinely interested in the finer points of the game and not just the physique of the players.

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During the NRL Grand Final match between the North Queensland Cowboys and the Brisbane Broncos at ANZ Stadium on October 4, 2015 in Sydney, Australia. Digital Image by Mark Nolan.

I have loved rugby league for as long as I can remember. There’s a photo of me when I was about three years old, and I’m standing in the hallway of our house wearing my Dad’s headgear and shoulder pads over the top of my pyjamas and grinning from ear to ear. You see, my Dad was a great football player and all I ever wanted was to be exactly like him. So, if you flick through photo albums of my childhood, there’s likely multiple photos of Dad and I sitting on the living room floor, watching the footy together. In every single photo, I am absolutely beaming. And ever since, I have been totally addicted to sport.

My parents always gave equal encouragement to their three daughters and son on the sporting field, no matter what the sport was. In fact, they encouraged us to participate in as much sport as possible. So for the five years before my brother was born, I was the substitute “boy” in my family and I absolutely loved it. Even when my brother came along and started playing football, I tagged along to all of his training sessions and begged to hold the tackle bags, fill up the water bottles, collect the balls, anything I could to be involved. The love affair never faded. As I grew up, I took on every after-school activity my parents offered, too, from dancing and gymnastics through to Oz Tag and touch football. If I wasn’t watching sport, I was playing it. And you know what? I was never dragged to a football game because of my brother or dad. I genuinely wanted to be there.

So imagine my frustration to read a recent online article that said, in essence, sport is just another thing women endure because their partners like it. According to the “research” underpinning the article, women who watch sports only do so to get some quality time with their significant other (insert eye-roll here). As someone who is broadly and deeply enthusiastic about sports, I found the article incredibly infuriating. Even more so when I read the study’s sample size – only 19 women were canvassed! Hardly enough to make sweeping generalisations about an entire gender.

The doubters only need to know one thing: for some women, sport is just a part of who they are. In the same way a woman can love fashion, getting her nails done or going out with girlfriends, a woman can love her sport. Loving fashion doesn’t make you any more of a woman, and loving sport doesn’t make you any less of one. So how about we drop the stereotypes and get on with the game?

Yvonne Sampson is one woman blazing a trail in the forward pack for female sport fans. Known for her role in rugby league, she is currently a Fox League presenter and previously worked for Seven local news, Sky News Australia and Nine News Sydney within the Wide World of Sports program.

As part of her current role as a Fox League presenter, Yvonne also co-hosts Australia’s first, all-female rugby league panel show alongside Jess Yates, Hannah Hollis and Lara Pitt. The 30-minute program on a Wednesday night delivers topical discussion and plenty of debate. Not only do these four wonderful women speak to some amazing guests, they all share a wealth of intelligence, talent, and importantly, a strong passion for sport. Among a string of outstanding achievements, Yvonne was also given the honour of being the first female to spearhead the coverage of Nine’s State of Origin series in 2016. If that doesn’t make you believe that women are leading the way in sport, then I don’t know what will. Talk about being a trailblazer, right?

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Image: Fox Sports

Just because Yvonne landed her dream job doesn’t guarantee she’s a sports nut. But here’s the thing: she is. Yvonne is smart, sophisticated and genuinely enjoys her rugby league. Sport is her career, but it’s also her passion.

I asked Yvonne what inspired her love for sport. “Sport is part of the fabric of being an Australian,” she says. “I fell in love with sport because of its unique ability to unite and bring everyone together.”
Like a true fan, sport forms some of her earliest memories.

“I remember getting up in the middle of the night to watch Pat Rafter play in the US Open, 
and huddling around the TV as a family to watch Kieren Perkins swim at the Olympics,” Yvonne says. “Melbourne Cup is another favourite of mine. I used to love getting involved in the sweeps at school,” Yvonne says.
She also has a list of female sports players who she admires and looks up to. “Ruan Sims is an incredible athlete and wears so many hats. She’s the captain of the Jillaroos, a firewoman, commentator for the ABC and also finds time for charity work,” explains Yvonne. She’s also heavily involved in pathways for young, female rugby league players. She’s a true role model in our game.”

And when I ask her what she loves most about rugby league, Yvonne relegates the subject of gender division to the bench. “I love that rugby league is so inclusive,” Yvonne says.
“It doesn’t matter where you’re from, the colour of your skin, or whether you’re rich or poor. There’s a place in the game for everyone.”

It’s an admirable ethos. But only when we finally tackle the gender divide, will sport be truly inclusive.

Feature Image: Fox Sports

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