In the 1990s and early 2000s, basketball led the way for women’s sport in Australia.
The Opals have been one of our most successful sporting teams, and medalled in each Olympic Games from 1996-2012.
Particularly in the 1990s, basketball was the benchmark in a period, long before the mainstream media was even talking about women playing AFL, rugby sevens or rugby league professionally.
But other sports have also begun providing women with similar opportunities, while the WNBL took a major hit at the end of 2014-2015 season when, due to budget cuts, the ABC withdrew its broadcast support (along with a withdrawal of support for a number of other sports).
This season, the WNBL started without a broadcast deal or a naming rights sponsor. The league also had no minimum wage and the players, on average, earnt less than $25,000 per year.
Despite an exciting WNBL season, which sees the Sydney Uni Flames one game away from taking out the 2017 season, the challenges off the court have been prominent.
That’s why this week, I was so pleased to hear that the WNBL is talking with three broadcasters for televising the competition next season.
Next year, there will also be a new minimum wage of $7500 (which will certainly benefit the 20 per cent of players who previously earnt less than $5000 per season), an agreement endorsed by each WNBL club.
While moving in the right direction, there is still a long way to go, particularly when you consider that Super Netball players are paid over $25,000 per season, WNCL players are paid $11,000 per season and AFLW contracts begin at $8500.
We know that you can’t be what you can’t see, so getting the WNBL back on television must be the goal Basketball Australia and the various clubs work towards. It not only draws interest to the support, but more eyes on the support increase the potential of corporate sponsorship, which the WNBL sorely needs.
This is bittersweet, because I don’t like that female athletes have to leave Australia to pursue their dream of playing sport professionally.
Regardless, congratulations are in order for eight players from the Aussie Spirit (Australia’s female softball team), who are going to play for the Chicago Bandits in the National Pro Fastpitch league, which takes place from June to August and features five teams.
Each of Janice Blackman, Chelsea Forkin, Rachel Lack, Stacey McManus, Kaia Parnaby, Samantha Poole, Ellen Roberts and Taylah Tsitsikronis have signed a professional contract with the Bandits, and will have the opportunity to play in one of the most established leagues in the world.
This is an important opportunity for these eight women, particularly as Australia works towards featuring in the 2020 Olympics for softball. Softball Australia will provide each player with a scholarship payment and a living and meals allowance.
We need to keep getting better
I also wanted to mention the efforts of Bec Goddard, who is coach of the Adelaide Crows AFLW team, and Heather Reid, who was appointed to the Football Federation Australia women’s committee on Tuesday.
Bec and Heather are continuing to advocate for women in sport and pushing our sports to lift their game.
The Crows are in a unique position in that nine of their players are based in the Northern Territory – so that means that Bec generally only sees her players, in person, on match day. Bec wants extra pay for these players to cover the days they miss at work, so that the team can train together each week.
Last week, when Adelaide played the Demons in Darwin, the women based in the Northern Territory had the luxury of being able to enjoy 12 consecutive nights sleeping in their own beds – the longest that they will have during the entire AFLW season.
This arrangement makes it even more remarkable that Adelaide look likely to face the Brisbane Lions in the league’s first grand final next week.
Speaking of AFLW, this week Heather Reid said that in light of the success of their marketing, the W-league needs to lift its game.
Rather than seeing AFLW as a threat, there are lessons to be learnt from other sports in how to market a competition and players.
Our sports are not in competition with each other – we should be taking every opportunity to learn from each other so we all get better together.