Football Victoria is thrilled to announce that Karen Pearce, Executive Manager Growth and Inclusion, has been awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia, for her tremendous service to sport administration.
Karen’s journey as a sports administrator has spanned more than two decades, predominately with Basketball Victoria before she joined Football Victoria in 2019.
Throughout this time, her advocacy for inclusion and diversity has been truly inspiring. As a direct result of her work, countless kids and adults who face physical or social participation barriers have had the opportunity to play the sports that they love.
“I don’t know how to put it in words to be honest. I am absolutely blown away. I have never done this for me. I have had and still have wonderful people around me who are driving the same agenda. A huge thank you to them,” Pearce said.
“Working in this area, every day is different, every day there is another challenge. But also, every day there is a win. It can be as simple as seeing that kid who’s never participated in sport before getting out there and having a grin from ear to ear.”
“I remember one parent in a regional area said her son thought he was the only one with Cerebral Palsy. He had never seen anyone else like him, but wheelchair basketball totally changed that. That’s the sort of stuff that gets me up every morning, it’s just so rewarding.”
Although this week she was honoured with one of Australia’s most prestigious awards, Pearce’s career started with humble beginnings. Whilst still playing in married women’s basketball competitions a few times a week, Pearce began coaching her four children and many other local Warrandyte kids.
This eventually led to her joining the Warrandyte Basketball Association Committee, where she then became President.
“I began as a volunteer, purely because I wanted to give back to the local community. When I was offered a role with Basketball Victoria, it was originally a three-month paid period, but I ended up staying there 20 years!” Pearce said.
“I remember in the early 2000s finding that if you were a young person with a physical impairment, there were just no pathways, even at specialist schools. We realised there were so many opportunities available, but sport just wasn’t grabbing them.”
After a stellar career with Basketball Victoria which saw the organisation transform its diversity and inclusion programs, Pearce was approached by Football Victoria in 2019, where she has already made an enormous impact.
“It goes back to the strategy we implemented within basketball. You can’t run programs successfully if they aren’t linked to Clubs. Everything we do in football we link with our local Clubs so that it’s not targeted just at the elite or representative level. We need to make a difference within the community and grow participation from the grass roots, that will enable change,” Pearce said.
“I spent the first six months learning football. I knew there were incredibly low rates of women and girls but what I had to do was understand why,” Pearce said.
“Traditionally, football has been male focused and male dominant. I found many women and girls weren’t being treated like elite athletes and many were even playing in second-hand men’s uniforms. It was unbelievable.”
Once she gained a firm understanding of the football landscape, Pearce went to work on implementing ambitious diversity-based goals within Football Victoria’s Strategic Plan.
Pearce is behind Football Victoria’s commitment to gender equality and the drive for 50/50 participation across all levels of the sport.
“The best thing that ever happened in Victoria was the Victorian Government’s inquiry into women in sport. Before that, we knew what the barriers were but there were repeated research projects into them. Basically, it was the same information coming out, but it was being written in different ways,” Pearce said.
“We knew what was holding things up, but what we needed to do was work on making changes. The Inquiry led to the creation of the Office For Women In Sport And Recreation which was a massive step in the right direction.”
In addition to major projects, Pearce is also working on empowering women and girls on a personal level. She is an avid mentor and has invested time into coaching the next generation of female leaders in sport.
“I’m not going to be here forever! I love mentoring and I love seeing young people coming through. I’m moving towards the end of my career journey so it is important that the new crop of sports administrators, particularly women
Football Victoria’s 50/50 goal has since been adopted by Football Australia, with the national organisation mirroring Football Victoria’s ambitious, yet staunch view that football should aim for even gender representation by 2027.
“In my role as Executive Manager Growth and Inclusion my focus is to make sure anyone can participate in our sport. It doesn’t matter if it’s as a coach, player, volunteer, administrator, referee or whatever else, we know all of the positives that sport can bring to people’s lives and we want to ensure everyone has access to be able to play,” Pearce said.
“We need to talk about FootbALLways and ensure that no one is ever turned away from football regardless of age group, skill level or any other reason.”
In addition to driving the FootbALLways strategy, Pearce is tirelessly working to remove other participation barriers that have affected people or groups of people from playing our game, including working with regional and indigenous communities.
Thanks to this work, Pearce is a more than worthy recipient of the Medal of the Order of Australia. She has contributed to the happiness, sense of belonging, mental wellbeing and physical health of countless Victorians.
On behalf of everyone at Football Victoria, congratulations Karen.
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