SANDOVER Medal night saw women’s Australian rules football pioneer Jan Cooper become the first woman to be inducted in the WA Football Hall of Fame.
Ms Cooper, who now works for the West Coast Eagles in their regional pathways program, said she feels very humbled and privileged at being inducted in the WA Football Hall of Fame, but also said that there are other women who were just as pioneering who came before her and received little recognition or support.
“I feel quite blessed that they chose me ahead of lots of those volunteers, who I think did it significantly harder than myself,” she said.
Ms Cooper listed Chelsea Randall, Daisy Pearce, Lauren Arnell and Emma Zielke as some of her female footy inspirations.
“I feel quite thrilled for them they have been able to get the opportunities that they deserve,” she said.
Daughter of Swan Districts legend John Cooper – also in the WA Football Hall of Fame – Ms Cooper said she has had a love of Australian rules football since she was a child.
Ms Cooper said she spent her formative years in Kalgoorlie, but it was when she moved back to Perth that she discovered her love of Australian rules footy.
“It wasn’t until we came back to Perth, that I started to understand, as a maybe 10-year-old, that I loved watching the game and kicking the footy with my brothers and their friends,” she said.
Ms Cooper said it was through her father’s connection to the club that she was able to help facilitate greater female participation at the Swans.
She said she then got her start as a trainer at the club along with three other female physiotherapists, and was there when the Swans won three WAFL grand finals in the 1980s.
“And at that stage too I was also playing state cricket and state volleyball and to see the difference in the resourcing of a WAFL team compared to a state women’s team was light years apart.
“The men had so much financial support, they were part time athletes, but they were still paid – everything was paid for, their uniforms, medical, everything.
“Whereas for us, we had to fork out everything for our sport,’ she said.
She said it was through her time at Swan Districts that she learned how footballers should be supported, leading her to advocate for equal pathways and options for women footballers.
“It gave me an appreciation of what the talent path should look like, and that really helped when I was in my AFL role, because I thought ‘right, well that’s where the men are, and the women at the moment are here, and we need to make it more equitable,’ so I knew what standard I had to push for,” she said.
Ms Cooper said she now hoped that the key decision makers would also start to acknowledge other key people within the community that have also worked hard.
“I was just lucky that I did my job well, but I had so many people to help me achieve what we’ve been able to achieve.
“And I hope too that the decision-makers realise that we’ve still got a way to go – they shouldn’t just be sitting on their hands and thinking ‘oh yeah, first woman here, first woman there,’ I’m a bit over the ‘first woman’ bit to be honest.
“I just hope that they broaden their mindset to look at other men and women who have been significant contributors to the women and girls and pathway and give them the recognition that they deserve.”
Swan Mitchell Bain was named WAFL reserves fairest and best for the 2023 season at the Sandover Medal night.