As a young girl, Mary Konstantopoulos wanted to spend more time with her sport obsessed father and brothers, so she started showing interest in rugby league, and has been hooked ever since.
In 2013, a friend challenged her to do something about her love for sport, so she launched “Ladies who League”, an initiative to encourage more women to get involved in conversations about rugby league.
The vision of the initiative expanded and began to focus on growing the women’s game when Konstantopoulos met the Australian Jillaroos (Australia’s national women’s rugby league team) and realised that women play rugby league.
The success of Ladies who League has seen Konstantopoulos widen the reach of her media company “Ladies Who” by launching spin-offs including Ladies who Legspin, Ladies who Lineout, and “Ladies who Leap”.
Konstantopoulos is a strong advocate for women’s sport and has brought her powerful voice to key issues in her writings for leading publications like the Sydney Morning Herald, the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph.
She was at the final of the recent ICC Women’s T20 World Cup in Australia, and believes the event set a new benchmark for what women’s sport can achieve.
With COVID-19 impacted global sport, Konstantopoulos, who was recently recognised at the Sport Australia Awards for her work in the digital space, hopes it doesn’t have a disproportionate impact on women’s sport and it’s viability going forward.
A telecommunications lawyer by day, Konstantopoulos has her hands full as a provider of essential services, and her life has never been busier.
We are grateful that she took time out of her busy schedule to chat to gsport Editor, Kass Naidoo, about her passion for sport and her drive to see women’s sport succeed.
Mary, how are you keeping it together during the lockdown?
It’s been really difficult! I am a very social person that gets my energy from being around other people, so that means lockdown has been challenging. I have been impacted, just like many people, but I am really missing sport and getting to spend time with my grandparents.
But I have tried to stick to a routine, exercise frequently and be grateful each day for things, like a healthy family and having a job. I also regularly remind myself that with each passing day we get one day closer to coming together again.
How has Coronavirus impacted your life and work?
By day, I am a lawyer and am currently working in the telecommunications space, so that part of my life has never been busier. Telecommunications really are an essential service, so this means we are tackling new challenges each day, with more people working from home.
In terms of Ladies who League, that has been severely impacted with no sport to talk about, and plenty of event cancellations. I’m taking the opportunity to have a break and look after my mental health during this period, because no doubt when all this is over, there will be plenty of sport to keep me busy once again.
How do you think we will start doing things differently going forward?
Going forward, I think there will be a sense of gratefulness for the little things – things that so many of us took for granted in the past, because we never thought they would be taken away. Things like going for walks with friends, hugs with family and time with the elderly.
Additionally, I think going forward working from home will become far more acceptable, and there will be better understanding of all the things people are juggling in their life away from work, now that everyone understands how big that juggle is.
Where does your passion for sport come from?
When I was eight years old, I wanted to spend more time with my dad and brothers. They spent a lot of time on the weekend playing sport but also watching rugby league, so I started to do the same. Once I picked a favourite rugby league team I was a goner, and have been ever since. That was when my passion for rugby league was born.
Why did you launch Ladies Who League?
I was encouraged to start Ladies who League by a woman I worked with. She realised, like most people do, very quickly that I had a passion for sport, so she challenged me to do something about it. At first I was hesitant, but then I realised I had nothing to lose and the next day started a WordPress blog called Ladies who League, to encourage more women to get involved in conversations about rugby league.
What was the inspiration behind the name Ladies Who League?
I honestly can’t remember! I think it just came to me in a moment of inspiration. Since Ladies who League started there have been various spin offs. The first was Ladies who Legspin (the cricket spin off).
It took me a long time to come up with a name once I was moving in to cricket, but another friend of mine suggested that I keep the ‘Ladies who’ part of the name, and use different words beginning with the letter ‘L’ to differentiate.” – Ladies who League Founder, Mary Konstantopoulos.
Since then we have had ‘Ladies who Lineout’, ‘Ladies who Leap’, ‘Ladies who Layup’, and so on.
How do you activate the initiative’s vision?
Ladies who League is a very genuine and authentic platform. Because I started the project from a place of love and with no other real motive other than to share my love of rugby league with others, and to champion women involved in the game, it’s been a real joy to share this platform with other people, and to build a family of like-minded people who feel the same way.
I am an active writer too, so apart from connection on social media, I tend to advocate through my writing. I have written for various platforms over the years including the Sydney Morning Herald, the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph and the Roar.
What did it mean to you to win the Best Individual Contribution to Sport via a digital platform at the Sport Australia Awards in 2020?
You don’t do what you do for recognition, but it was really special to be recognised in a room full of people that I admired so greatly and who had been of such support to me over the Ladies who League journey.
How can the public interact with/get involved with the Ladies Who League?
Very easily! There are two podcasts which people can listen to – one called Ladies who League, and one called Ladies who Legspin. We are also on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!
How far have we come in global women’s sport and where do we need to improve to power the game forward?
We have come an immensely long way. When I started Ladies who League, I had no idea that women could even play rugby league. That all changed when I became exposed to a group of women called the Australian Jillaroos, who are Australia’s female rugby league team. I realised that if I didn’t know who these women were, then there would be others who were in the same position.
It was at that point that Ladies who League expanded, and really began to focus on growing the women’s game.
Eight years later, so much has changed. We have professional women’s competitions across many sports in Australia, our female athletes are just as well-known as our male athletes, and women’s sport is frequently on television.
The next big step is moving toward equal pay – some sports in Australia, like cricket, are further along that journey than others. ” – Ladies who League Founder, Mary Konstantopoulos.
Additionally, we need to make sure that the financial pressure on sport due to COVID-19 doesn’t have a disproportionate impact on women’s sport and it’s viability going forward.
What can the world learn from Australia about promoting women’s sport?
Cricket is a wonderful example of what can be achieved when an appropriate investment is made in women’s sport.
The Australian Women’s cricket team have been dominant on the world stage for the last three years, and it comes as no coincidence that this has coincided with the introduction of the WBBL – A landmark pay deal which saw the women included in the CBA for the first time; and the professional nature of the game, which has seen many women being able to focus on their craft full time, therefore improving the quality of the game.
We have seen sold out matches in the WBBL, hundreds of people lining up for autographs from these women and of course, it all culminated in that magic ICC T20 Women’s World Cup final back in March.
What was it like experiencing the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup in Australia? I read an article prior to the event when you said even if they didn’t get to 90 000, even 85 000 would be a victory.
Goodness me. It was incredible.
Given where the world is right now, I consider myself so grateful that that event got to go ahead and that I was able to attend. ” – Ladies who League Founder, Mary Konstantopoulos.
It’s really hard to put into words how special that final was. I remember walking in to the MCG and bursting into tears. To see so many people there to watch women’s sport and celebrate women in sport, was absolutely incredible. It was a moment so many people had worked so hard for for a long time.
Katy Perry was a superb addition too – there was something about the imagery of a heavily pregnant woman standing in the middle of a full MCG, surrounded by the symbol for women singing a song about female empowerment that was just perfect. Then there was the post-game show – those images of the Aussie women dancing on stage with Katy Perry will remain with me for a long time!
That event set a new benchmark for what women’s sport can achieve, and I hope from here on in, we only go forward, not backward.
What is your advice to women about excelling in sport?
Genuinely, it is simply to have a go, don’t be afraid to ask for help, and be kind to others.
What is your greatest wish for women’s sport?
That young girls growing up across the world understand that there is a place for them to be involved in sport in whatever way they want to, and that we can move to a world where female athletes are remunerated fairly and appropriately for the work they do.
Photo 1 Caption: ‘Ladies who League’ Founder and telecommunications lawyer Mary Konstantopoulos (right) shares a lighter moment leading an official International Cricket Council gathering during the 2020 Women’s T20 World Cup in Australia with home team skipper of the eventual tournament champions, Meg Lanning (left), and showpiece co-finalists captain, India’s Harmanpreet Kaur (centre), in March, 2020. Photo: Supplied
Photo 2 Caption: Jillaroos Rugby League player Meg Ward and Mary Konstantopoulos celebrate the moment following the second stand-alone women’s State of Origin match, at the North Sydney Oval in 2019. Photo: Supplied
Photo 3 Caption: Mary Konstantopoulos pictured delivering her acceptance speech after being awarded the Best Individual Contribution to Sport via a digital platform award, at the Sport Australia Awards this year. Photo: Supplied
Photo 4 Caption: The iconic Australian activation in honour of cricket legend Richie Benaud finds favour with the younger ladies too, with Mary Konstantopoulos snapped with three future commentators of the ‘gentlemen’s’ game. Photo: Supplied