You know an idea’s time has come when the response to it is too strong. When ex-AIHL Commissioner Nikki Dryden convened the AIHL Women In Ice Hockey Summit at the O’Brien Group Arena in September 2017, she sought to expose participants to women’s leaders from other sports.
The response was “overwhelming”, she says. “I put out a lot of requests and too many people said yes. It was a packed program.”
There was too much inspiration and not enough time for the ice hockey contingent to action all the great information they had gathered.
So, in 2018, the humble high-achiever made sure she convened a day of workshops on the day after the conference, for the women’s ice hockey community to formulate plans based on learnings from Saturday’s sessions.
Former Australian cricketer Lisa Sthalekar led a discussion on whether or not we should be creating something different for women in sport
It was necessary, because Nikki’s brainchild had morphed into a monster, the 2018 AIHL Women in Sport Summit presented by Scotiabank, held on 2 September 2018 at RMIT.
Nikki’s hockey-centric event highlighted the desperate need for a grassroots women’s sports conference.
High profile administrators and experts from soccer, basketball, AFLW, netball, leading academies and the business community filled a full day’s program.
“It got a lot bigger in 2018,” Nikki says. “It felt wrong to exclude such incredible speakers – the scope widened so the event became open to anyone. I was surprised again at how many wanted to participate.”
She was also surprised at the calibre of sportswoman who hadn’t had an opportunity to speak before. A notable example was New Zealand rugby league national team star Krystal Rota, mother of two who touched base via Skype. At the other end of the scale, yet no less impactful, was the experience of Sarah Sullivan, from the Australian Para Ice Hockey team, who represented her country at a world championship despite growing up never playing any sport.
World record holder Assmaah Helal presented on creating chances for women in sport
Nikki says ice hockey was the ideal host for the event. If a major sport like a football code had been organiser, rivals seen to be competing for mainstream exposure may not have participated. Ice hockey may have represented no threat, but the major theme which emerged from the conference was that even bigger women’s sports had a lot in common with the more niche compatriots.
“The big message to emerge from the Summit was that the problems we face in ice hockey are not novel to that sport. They are the same for other grassroots sports. Once we were networking we realised we had the same problems in common.”
These issues included perennials such as sponsorship, participation, and marketing. But two things re-emerged in discussions: no matter the sport, it is difficult to keep girls participating between the ages of 12 and 16. And, mums need more support to continue their sporting careers. Both topics were discussed at Sunday’s workshops.
Nikki concluded that if you solve such issues for one, you can solve for all.
“The more we come together and learn from each other the better. These events prove that no sport needs to think it is in this alone. We need to raise the bar for all: together we’re stronger.”
Nikki, a two-time Canadian Olympic swimmer and a human rights and immigration lawyer, is proud of the community which she has fostered, but realistic about the evolution of the Summit; she will delegate more next year.
“I didn’t ask for help, I did too much myself. It got too big before I asked for help. Next year I will share it with more people and have a more structured process.”
Experts helping with marketing and advertising will the event reach an audience worthy of its elite speakers.
Whatever changes occur as the Summit further grows, Nikki is adamant that one fundamental will remain – the conference will remain free.
“It will happen regardless of whether I’m involved now. We have tremendous sponsors - the support of the Scotiabank, Canadian Consul-General, RMIT, O’Brien Group and the AIHL will ensure that we can keep it free and make sure the right people are there.
Kate Palmer CEO of Sport Australia led a panel on the role of government advancing women's sport
“We don’t need white cloth on the tables at our luncheon – we’re not meant to be a big, fancy corporate event. It was important we heard from diverse points of view, from people of colour, people with a disability… The Summit did a great job of informing and discussing at a low cost thanks to the generosity of the speakers, who spoke for free.”
That’s a stark contrast to a similar event, with a similar agenda, held two weeks prior, where the price tag was $2 500 per head.
Asked why her cheaper event struck a nerve, Nikki says “solutions shared help us all”.