Journalist Spotlight | Interview with Chloe Dalton, Founder and Co-Host of The Female Athlete Project
Chloe Dalton is the Founder and Co-Host of The Female Athlete Project. She boasts an Olympic gold medal in the Women’s Rugby Sevens from Rio in 2016. Chloe has also played in the Women’s National Basketball League, and currently plays for the Greater Western Sydney Giants in the AFLW, all while studying for her Bachelor’s in Physiotherapy.
Can you tell me a bit about The Female Athlete Project and your aspirations with it?
I started The Female Athlete Project in 2020 during one of the Covid lockdowns. On my days off from training I loved heading down to the beach and grabbing a coffee and a newspaper and flicking to the back page to read about sport. So often I’d really struggle to find stories about women’s sport, so I wanted to create a space to share the stories of incredible female athletes. We thought initially it would just be a space for a podcast, and it's kind of grown from there into a social space. Now we have a community of over 50,000 people who are invested in women's sport and love reading stories about it.
Are there any particular experiences from your own sports career that made you decide to found the Project?
When I was playing in the WNBL, I was fresh out of high school, I had started studying a physiotherapy degree and my wage to pay for the USYD Flames at the time pretty much just covered my petrol money to and from training for the week. I’d wake up at 4am to work at a gym, then go to training that night, try to wake up at 6am again, and sleep under the tables at uni, not paying much attention to my degree.
When I had the chance to make the move over to rugby sevens the salaries were slightly better, but still not a huge amount back in 2013, 2014. It was a pretty unique experience being a part of that team heading over to Rio and winning that gold medal. I think it really changed people’s attitudes towards women belonging in a game like rugby, which had been dominated by men for so many years. I am a little bit torn about that moment because so many people saw it and said I had no idea women could play rugby to that standard, so it was kind of a cool platform to be able to prove people wrong in the sense, but at the same time it was disappointing to hear so many people had this belief that women couldn't play rugby to the standard that we played it at.
How has the sports industry and the way it is reported changed over your career?
We’re starting to see new platforms popping up and specific newspapers having more dedicated platforms to cover women’s sport. I think people are realising that they’re going to get left behind if they don’t get on board. I like how the cricketers have been quite strident on their push to be analysed by the media like the men are, and I think we’ve started to see a little bit more of that in AFLW. So there has definitely been an increase in both the analytics of the games and the volume of coverage. Hopefully with that, we’ll also see more of a spotlight on female journalists in sport.
What do you think increased coverage will do to the women’s sport industry?
I think it will have a real flow on effect, increased investment in the product will continue to improve the lives of female athletes. That’s going to lead to a better quality product, which means broadcast deals that are worth a lot more money and it can flow on from there. The more that the female game grows, the better it is for the sport, and for the sustainability of the game.
Do you think we’ll ever see the singular men’s and women’s AFL instead of the separate leagues? What impact do you think that would have on the sports journalism industry?
I was asked that question a few years ago, and I was unsure about my response. But now it makes a lot of sense to me, I think they should add the ‘M’. A lot of people talk about it as if it’s called ‘AFLM’. I know adding the ‘M’ is seen as overkill, but for me it’s a really small addition that changes this idea that men’s sport is the default. We even see that default when we search something on google. There was a recent campaign on ‘correcting the internet’, I’ll use the example of Christiano Renaldo here. He is listed the highest goal scorer of all time, when in fact it was Christine Sinclair. It reinforces the idea that the women are not an addition to the men’s league.
For me with The Female Athlete Project, I so often feel like we’re fighting this uphill battle of reminding people that women in sport exist and reminding them that women’s sport is valuable. Anything we can do to represent female athletes in an equal playing field is going to have that positive flow on effect. If someone who maybe doesn't watch women’s sport or may not have respected women’s sport sees an article about the female game, it might make them more likely to shift their attitude about it. Then the more clicks that article gets, the more incentive there is for that organisation to continue putting out articles about women’s sport.
Do you think that female sports journalists play a particular role in promoting gender equality in the sports media industry?
Absolutely, there’s a lot of research and discussion around the gendered language when it comes to talking about women in sport, and the dialogue is often in relation to whether they’re single, married or coming back from a baby. Whereas the men are being described as powerful and strong. So there’s a real responsibility around the language that’s being used to describe female athletes.
What advice would you give to young women who are interested in pursuing careers in sports journalism, who might be intimidated by the fact that it is such a male-dominated industry?
It's a hard one and it makes sense for it to feel overwhelming and intimidating. My biggest piece of advice would be to reach out to platforms that specifically cover women's sport and get your foot in the door in an environment that’s safe and welcoming.