NSWRL Head of Competitions Yvette Downey has been recognised today for more than a decade committed to removing barriers for women and girls to play Rugby League, winning the prestigious Trailblazer Award at the NSW Government’s annual Her Sport Her Way Awards.
The award, one of five recognising the leaders of women’s sport in NSW, was presented by the Minister for Sport Dr Geoff Lee MP at a special ceremony at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art in a week that kicked off by celebrating International Women’s Day.
Since Downey became the first female Head of Competitions for NSWRL in the organisation’s 114-year history seven years ago, she has created an unbroken pathway for female participation from under 6s through to Open Age.
“Winning this award means a lot, I’m humbled first and foremost,” Downey said.
“There’s a whole range of people over a number of years who have worked together to get to where we are now, but there’s still lots of work to do.
“Over the past five years we have really led the female sports space and we’ve done a lot of really cool stuff.
“The one thing I’m most proud of is that girls don’t have to stop playing footy now when they turn 12 and can no longer play with the boys.
“Instead of losing them to other sports until they turn 17, when they turn 12 they can find somewhere to play where it’s only the girls, so I think that shows we are truly a sport for all now.”
Downey has also overseen significant growth in female participation, with the number of women and girls playing Rugby League across the state increasing by 300 per cent since her appointment.
In 2017, Downey formed the Harvey Norman Tarsha Gale Cup (initially Under 18s, now Under 19s) which provides a valuable pathway for the state’s premier women’s competition, the Harvey Norman NSW Women’s Premiership, where players can then progress to the NRLW, Under 18s Origin and Women’s Origin honours.
“To have a CEO and a Board that are supportive of putting the right people in the job and are advocates for females, if they’re the right person for the job, that means a lot to me,” Downey said.
“I hope the fact that I am female opens peoples’ eyes and other women realise they can work in sports that are traditionally male dominated.”
The Awards honour the achievements of leaders in women’s sport across five categories with international cricket umpire Claire Polosak taking out the top award, the Her Sport Her Way Champion.
The Awards are part of the NSW Government’s women in sport strategy, Her Sport Her Way, which aims to increase participation opportunities and attract investment and recognition for women's sport.