Playing one of the most male-dominated and gender stereotyped sports can’t possibly be easy, but Libby does it with pride, passion and enthusiasm. She has set her sights high but is already achieving masses, both on the field and in advocating for equality in sports.
So, just to get to know you a bit, what's the issue that your most passionate about?
Well, a few things, being an indigenous female I'm very passionate about opportunities for indigenous education, specifically for women. Then from a sporting side of things, probably the lack of opportunity for women to become professional athletes.
Yeah, I find it really annoying that no one really goes to see the women's games. So, who is your ultimate sporting role model?
It would have to be Bo De La Cruz, she is an indigenous women, go figure, and she has played at the Australian level for touch football and 7's, she was part of the first Australian rugby 7's team to win a world cup, she is definitely an idol of mine. She was also part of the Indigenous all-stars team who won the all-stars match last weekend for the first time in 6 years.
That’s really exciting, so, how old were you wen you first started playing rugby?
Actually, I was twenty, so pretty old, my background as a kid was netball and I played all the way up until I was 18, I tore my ACL in my left leg, and then I came back after rehab and wasn't really feeling comfortable with the agility and stuff in netball, so I just moved across to rugby union, as you do.
That’s a pretty big change, netball to rugby.
Absolutely, so going from a non-contact sport to a contact sport was a really big step and I had to learn new techniques, so I wouldn’t hurt myself or other people in tackles and in contact. It was a really life changing move.
Yeah, it would be. What do you aspire to do after you retire from sport, are you interested in coaching?
Actually, I'm probably going to take a different path, so I'm studying Justice Law, and I thought initially that I'd go into prevention of crime, specifically in young Indigenous men and women in that age bracket of juvenile crime, but the further I've gotten into playing football, there's a massive opportunity and a massive market to manage women and look for opportunities for women for sponsorship and full time contracts and to make their sport a living. So I'll probably move away from justice and focus more on the legal side of things.
So obviously indigenous women in sport is a really big thing for you.
Massive, I think we have a lot of focus on men playing rugby league, rugby union, even cricket and basketball, we have Patrick Mills who is a Torres Strait Islander who's played in the Olympics for Australia and is now playing in the states, we've had a few other indigenous boys do the same. But we haven't had the same opportunities for indigenous women, which is probably because we don’t have those opportunities for women in general. There is a real push in Indigenous communities for the boys to play at a representative level or aspire to, but we don’t have that for women yet, so that’s really disappointing for me. That’s really something I would love to see develop.
Yeah, cool, so with doing Law at Uni, What's the biggest challenge of balancing that with professional rugby?
I think time management is probably the biggest struggle that I have, but its also the thing that I'm most proud of because I can time manage and I need to be really effective with my time, but in saying that it probably also makes me really impatient. So, yeah, the biggest challenge is really just staying on top of everything, but if I can just communicate my schedule to the Uni and to my coaches, they are pretty understanding.
In saying that, what's the biggest challenge you've faced in your sporting career?
Probably not being able to be a full time professional athlete, I think that’s probably every woman's most frustrating challenge, especially playing football, the men get play professionally and they get paid a wage that allows them to train professionally and look after their bodies and support their families, I play the same sport, I play the same minutes on the field, and I may not be the best player, but even our best players aren't given that opportunity to play full time and the wage so that we don’t have to juggle work and rent and kids.
That relates back really strongly to the concept of the glass ceiling, even though your doing the same stuff there just isn't that same support system for women.
Yeah, exactly, it is getting better, there were women before me that paid their own way to world cups and now all those tours are paid for, and I am very grateful for that. However I think that moving forward we can't stop there, we have to push to the next level and say that we need to have the same opportunities.
Well outside of sport as well, it is never going to be good enough to say its better than it was, which we all here a lot. It has to really be fully-fledged equality for it to be good enough. What influenced your decision to change from League to rugby sevens?
So, I'm still juggling both, I fell in love with sevens as soon as I started playing it and that is where I would really love to end up, but, the opportunity to actually move forward and to be a professional athlete came with league.
Well I guess it really is all about where the opportunity comes from and you've just got to grab it with both hands.
Absolutely, we have a lot of rugby union girls that've come across to play league, it is a different sport and you do have to learn your craft, but, I think, us a women, we just have to sport each other from whatever code and whatever sport and if the opportunity to play professional sport is with rugby league then I welcome all the women to come and play league, it only makes us a better competition, really.
So, outside of Uni, what's the biggest sacrifice you've had to make for sport?
Leaving my family and being away from home has been really hard, that’s definitely the hardest thing, as missing out on birthdays and family holidays where I'm the only one not there. The off season for football is still during Uni, so I don’t get to just fly home, and by the time Uni is finished I'm back into pre-season, so there isn't an off period. I do get homesick and my parents really have to come and visit me, even on off weekends, when I have two or three days, its too expensive to fly home because I don’t get paid to play. Also, being a female, you have to sacrifice your body a lot, we push them a lot, this is my second knee reconstruction that I'm currently doing rehab for and I think that if I had to have another operation on my knee I'd be done because ultimately I do want to have kids and I do want to be able to play with them.
It would be an enormous risk to be putting your body out there especially in tackle football.
Exactly, the wear and tear on you body is huge, but we do it because we love the game and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
So, What do you think is the most fabricated stereotype associated with women and contact sport?
I hate this " you can't tackle" and "you tackle like a girl" or "you run like a girl" it frustrates me beyond what I can even explain. I get really offended because I think, yes the strength level, naturally for men and women is different, but we have other attributes, if you watch the rugby sevens, the way the women play is completely different to the way the men play. That isn't just because of coached style, that’s because we bring a different aspect to the game, its not better or worse, its just different. I think we complement playing rugby sevens and we complement playing league in a different way to the men. So I think the stereotype around women shouldn’t tackle and around women playing contact is a load of rubbish.
Well women having less natural strength really shouldn’t matter if everyone who is playing is a woman
A hundred percent, I think the problem at the moment with football is that our only comparison is to the men and what that brings in and the revenue and the media. We are ultimately aiming for equality so, yeah, we are comparing ourselves to the men, but in terms of physical attributes , like you said, we aren't actually playing them so it really shouldn’t be an issue.
Yeah, the tactics should really be the part that is compared to the men. So, lastly, what are your current goals on the sporting field?
I am currently coming back off a knee re-construction, I'm almost four months in which means I've got five months to go. So my goal is to hopefully be back for State of origin in July, our world cup is in November this year, here in Australia, so ultimately that would be an amazing achievement for me, but being realistic around injury, well listening to everyone else's idea of realistic, its probably just coming back and playing in the women's NRL competition next year. My long term goal is this time next year, to be playing for the Cronulla Sharks, but that’s really everyone else. My personal goal is to be playing State of Origin and just make the world cup squad.
It's really important not to listen to everyone else's, as you say, version of reality, you really have to block all of that out
Absolutely, people set their version of limits but I know my body and I know myself well, so I know what I'm capable of.
Well thank you so much for you time Libby