Enthusiastic about women’s sport and gender equity on and off the field and court, Chloe Dalton is getting athletes talking on The Female Athlete Project.
Chloe Dalton is a fascinating person. Strong in her convictions, hard working, well spoken and incredibly kind—even when I accidentally hung up on her—whoops.
We chat about Melbourne’s lockdown and have a chuckle about Carlton’s win over my team—the Melbourne Demons—earlier this year. She’s easy to talk to and, above all, clearly very passionate about women’s sport and gender equality.
Irrespective of which sport you follow closest, you’ll have seen Chloe Dalton’s name around the traps. Once a basketballer with the Sydney Uni Flames, and currently a Carlton Blues AFLW player and Rugby 7s Olympic gold medallist, Dalton has an impressive resume for her 27 years.
Her work, however, doesn’t stop when she leaves the field or court. A keen advocate for women in sport, Dalton recently launched her own podcast, The Female Athlete Project.
“It was something that I wanted to do for quite a while. I loved this idea of trying to promote female athletes and for me to have the opportunity to chat to them. To get to know athletes from all different sports and all different codes. I’ve always been really passionate about gender equality,” Dalton explained.
The athlete hasn’t simply talked the talk, either. In the past Dalton has worked with Our Watch “around the importance of gender equality for the prevention of domestic violence” and with Carlton Respects, a Carlton Football Club initiative focused on those same principles of gender equality and prevention of violence against women. The Female Athlete Project is an extension of all this.
“I’ve for a long while just tried to work out what I could actually do. Obviously I play sport and I compete and I do my best as an athlete, but whether there’s something more that I could do to kind of address the inequality that exists there.”
Having played at the elite level in multiple sports means Dalton is more qualified than most to speak to the obstacles involved in being a part-time athlete.
“I love playing footy with Carlton, but it’s been really cool being back full time [for Australia’s Rugby 7s team]. This is my job.”
“When I was in Melbourne I was working as a physio, and even for me going to work all day in quite a physical job, to then rock up to training and I didn’t feel like I had the energy to be able to prepare and train the best that I possibly could. And I think that’s the biggest thing, that being a full-time athlete allows you to do that. You can devote all your time and energy into your sport, and that’s not just training in itself. That is in the preparation and mobility, nutrition, recovery. All these different elements, which the athletes who are part-time know how important they are, but there’s just not enough time available to be able to put those things into place.”
And this is the exact catch-22 cycle many female athletes are stuck in. Told that to get paid more, or receive more support, their standard needs to improve. In order to improve, more resources and higher salaries are required.
“Until athletes are full-time you’re not going to see the exponential benefits, when it’s part-time athletes who have, a lot of them, full-time jobs on the side.”
I joke that I don’t know how they do it when I’m exhausted just spending a day writing, let alone working all day then heading to a physical, elite training session. But it’s exactly this story that we’ve heard multiple times.
How Melbourne’s Shelley Scott runs a dairy farm in Gerangamete near Colac and regularly makes the two-and-a-half hour drive to Casey Fields to train. How Richmond’s Courtney Wakefield started the 2020 preseason living a 14-hour round trip from the Tigers’ Punt Road home, and had to relocate to the Mornington Peninsula to make the season possible. How Kate Lutkins, Phoebe Monahan, Jade Pregelj and Rheanne Lugg are in the military. How Grace Campbell traded her guernsey for nurse’s scrubs when the pandemic hit hard.
There are countless stories, and they extend further than just AFLW players. It’s important to publicly acknowledge the sacrifices these players make, as well as the consistent inequities those in the media, leagues and other external organisations allow and even encourage. What we are seeing, however, is more athletes willing to call these inequities out.
“A lot of the time I find that we often feel like we need to make sure that we’re saying the right things and keeping everyone happy,” Dalton said.
“But it’s been interesting… Obviously though there are a few things in the media and players have become more vocal around what they want to see in the game. And I think that’s pretty empowering and I’d love to see female athletes being able to feel comfortable about voicing what they want to see and the improvements that they want to see in their game without being told that they’re too demanding or out of line by expecting these things that their male counterparts receive.”
Dalton highlights the excellent work of the Melbourne Vixens when it comes to publicly calling out inequities this year. In particular, their recent posts regarding the front page image selected by the Herald Sun which specifically excluded co-captain Kate Moloney on the eve of their historic grand final win.
“It was quite surprising when I first read it. And as I looked through it, I found it really refreshing because I think that’s so powerful for the club to make a stand against it, rather than just for people who are supporters or spectators to call it out,” Dalton said.
“It’s such a powerful thing and I would love to see other clubs and other organisations following suit. I just think it’s a really unified way of going about it.”
I change gears and almost before I finish my question—who are some athletes she’d love to have as a guest—Dalton excitedly says Lauren Jackson’s name.
“My childhood idol for basketball, because that was the sport I grew up playing.” She also mentions champion Australian surfer Sally Fitzgibbons as someone high on her list of potential guests.
This enthusiasm and admiration is far from superficial, with the athlete herself an avid watcher of women’s sport.
“It’s all well and good to talk about supporting women in sport, but you actually need to be the ones that are putting the TV on and actually going and getting bums in seats to watch those games.”
This sparks my memory of watching Dalton win her gold medal. I tell the story—working as a barista with my phone perched on top of the machine streaming the match—and her excitement bursts through the phone.
“It’s so crazy like that. It just blows my mind how people have a specific memory of that moment. Because I think about the Cathy Freeman race, it’s etched in my memory. And the amount of people who’ve told me this or that when they’ve watched the game, I’m like, how crazy is that? I was part of that game!”
And this is the kind of enthusiasm and eloquence Dalton brings to The Female Athlete Project. Catch the podcast wherever you listen, and switch on your TVs—or get down to games if you’re in a state that permits—and, like Chloe, walk the walk.