Josephine Sukkar has been a long-time supporter of Rugby in Australia, with next year marking her family’s 30th year of sponsoring the game in this country.
She has served in administrative roles in club land and at the national body but now Josephine has embarked on her biggest role yet, as the newly appointed Chair of the Australian Sports Commission.
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Not that Board rooms are unfamiliar territory for the ardent Sydney University supporter. It was at the Club that she was first introduced to a possible future in sports administration – and that helped launch her Buildcorp business into a national powerhouse.
From there, life blossomed. Josephine wed husband Tony, raised their two children (Jordan and Isabella) and met many lifelong friends at No.2 Oval, including the late-David Clarke.
“I would have done anything for David Clarke. To have had a front row seat and exposure to him, how he led Boards and how he thought big! He was an inspiration for me and such an amazing role model.
“I was the only woman on the Board back then but that’s been my life in construction and in Rugby. It was men like David Clarke who led the way. He really had no gender lens. He was one of those people who never thought of your gender or your age,” Sukkar said.
And the administrative positions didn’t end there, as Sukkar made her mark both in the corporate sector and in Rugby.
“Once my children had finished school, Bruce Corlett approached me to join a Board he was Chairing. A public company Board and that was my first exposure to public company Board work, but he backed me into the role as the first woman on the Board of the trust company in its 130-year history.
“I have also Chaired the Nominations Committee for Rugby Australia, I am still President of Women’s Rugby and I served as a Director of the Australian Rugby Foundation.
“Rugby and the people in Rugby dragged me up to be the person I didn’t know I could be or see. I can’t thank Rugby enough for what Rugby has done for me.
And now in 2021, on the eve of International Women’s Day her eyes fixed on change across all of Australian sport.
“This year, my pledge is that I choose to challenge organisations with structural barriers to the fair and equal participation of women wherever they are.
“We have an issue in sport in Australia where over 95% of the CEOs in the large national sporting organisations are men, and just two High Performance Managers that are women.
“We can’t force a woman to be in sport or in a role she doesn’t want to be in but to make sure we don’t have any structural barriers, or any unconscious bias, that exclude women from participating,” Sukkar said.
Women’s participation is blooming in Australian Rugby, from XVs to Sevens and in Schools, but the change will truly be felt in the years to come, according to Sukkar.
“Participation of women is around the participation of all. If I quote the former then-ARU Chair Michael Hawker, “when I was a boy, my father decided what sport we played. My wife decided what sport our children played”.
“Right now, a lot of women’s sports are not revenue generating so we can be quick to dismiss them. We recognise they may not be revenue generating but we’re playing the long game.
“We say that today, not as many people might attend a women’s rugby match than a men’s rugby match, but I look at those young women and girls playing today, and when I think about them in 10-20 years’ time when they might be mothers, and they go to start their child in a sport - what sport do you think they will put their kids in?
“It’s a much bigger picture and we need to play the long and short game at the moment and if we don’t, we’re going to pay every which way.”
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