Article by David Griffin -
For the first time in its 123 year history, the Victorian Athletic League has appointed a female President, with board member Stephanie Spence (nee Mollica) stepping into the role vacated by Mathew Boyes.
Like Richmond football clubs pioneering president Peggy O’Neil, 37 year old Spence has broken new ground for professional athletics in Victoria.
“I am looking forward to adding to what is an already great sport. I have enjoyed sports administration and my own personal athletics career and now as I am raising a family I wanted to remain in touch and contribute where possible”, Spence said after the announcement.
A sport steeped in history, the Victorian Athletic League’s appointment of Spence is a positive step forward as the league looks to re-establish itself in the competitive Victorian sports market.
“Perhaps our sport isn’t as well understood as other sports and there is potentially a funding model around other sports that perhaps we don’t currently get access to”.
“In some ways I see our sport a lot like the Melbourne Cup and it has the same type of appeal”, she said.
CEO of the VAL Tom Burbidge, sees the appointment of Spence as positive step forward for the sport.
“Pro running is one of the most historical sports in Australia and Stephanie brings with her a wealth of knowledge and skills so I’m looking forward to continuing our work together”.
“Stephanie’s business development and communication appetite has a great deal to offer the league moving forward”.
Spence has been an active member of the VAL as an athlete since 2003, a board member from 2016 and has seen firsthand the changing of the guard for females in the sport.
“There were days when there were very few races specifically for women and no female change rooms, so women just had to work it out,” she recalled.
“Not only do woman have their own change rooms but we have gone some way to receiving equal prizemoney and we are seeing more females come into the sport through the junior races that are now at every meeting, which has been a great way for the sport to grow”.
A winner of pro races from 70m to 800 metres, her first objective is to improve communication channels for athletes, administrators, clubs and coaches.
“I think it’s important that we provide a safe opportunity for people to contribute ideas and express views. Everybody involved in this sport loves it and I would like to think we can provide the opportunity for people to speak up and have a voice”.