Women’s sport weekly wrap: Get out to the WNBL

Mary Konstantopoulos Columnist

By , Mary Konstantopoulos is a Roar Expert

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    Ten years ago, basketball was at the forefront of women’s sport in this country. The Opals were one of Australia’s most recognised sporting teams and everyone knew who Suzy Batkovic, Lauren Jackson, Penny Taylor and Belinda Snell were (in fact, most still do).

    But somewhere along the way, other sports began to catch up and basketball became part of a wider conversation, which includes rugby league, AFL, rugby union, netball and cricket.

    While many sports have progressed, basketball has not moved forward as rapidly.

    The WNBL faced some challenges last season, losing television coverage and struggling for most of the year to find a major sponsor.

    But that was last year.

    This year, there is 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 club. Fox Sports is also televising a minimum of one game per week. Both steps in the right direction.

    This is also the year that I officially became a basketball fan – and, more importantly, a fan of the Sydney University Flames.

    I’ve been to three games so far and here is what I’ve learnt.

    There’s plenty of talent
    I’m never surprised at the quality when I go to watch women’s sport, but have been absolutely blown away by the talent in the WNBL.

    You have players like Elizabeth Cambage (Melbourne Boomers), who has been a regular in the Opals since 2010. Liz also made history at London in 2012, when she became the first woman ever to dunk in Olympic competition, on her way to helping Australia win the bronze medal.

    Elizabeth Cambage of the Opals

    Bidgee / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0 AU

    Or Asia Taylor (Sydney University Flames and the Washington Mystics in the WNBA), who led the Flames last year toward their first ever premiership, averaging 16.2 points per game.

    Or what about Laia Palau (Dandenong Rangers), who is playing her first season in the WNBL? The winner of five Spanish league titles in the Liga Femenina de Baloncesto, Laia captained the Spanish team that won silver at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

    Combine this with Katie Rae Ebzery (Flames), Tessa Lavey (Rangers), Sami Whitcomb (Perth Lynx), Suzy Batkovic (Townsville Fire), Rachel Jarry (Canberra Capitals), Kelsey Griffen (Bendigo Spirit), Jenna O’Hea (Boomers) and Abby Bishop (Adelaide Lightning) and you get a competitive, physical and high-scoring competition.

    If you love basketball, you won’t be disappointed.

    Role models
    There aren’t many sports where after the game, fans are given complete, unobstructed access to the players. But that’s exactly what happens at the WNBL.

    After fulltime, fans walk onto the court and the players are delighted to see them.

    I saw Asia Taylor talking to three little girls last week, who were thrilled to meet her. At the end of the chat, they embraced Asia, barely coming up to her waist, and Asia made them promise that they would come say hello to her every game from then on.

    This makes a difference. You can’t be what you can’t see. I want to applaud the players in the WNBL for being so open and giving with their time and recognising the power that they have to be role models for young people.

    It’s affordable
    This would come as no surprise, because it is the case for most women’s sport, but going to the WNBL is cheaper for a family to attend than the movies.

    Adult tickets to go watch the Flames are $16, concessions are $10, and kids are $6.

    Not only do you have affordable and exceptional entertainment, but it’s all over within two hours.

    My message is that if you are interested in basketball, give the WNBL a go. If you are in Sydney, the Flames have several matches left this season, so come out and support the reigning champions.

    I often say that it is important to celebrate how far we have come but to never forget how far we still have to go.

    In Australia, we are fortunate because women have the opportunity to participate in sport in a variety of capacities – as players, administrators and spectators. While we do not live in a gender-equal world, the importance of being able to participate in sport can never be forgotten.

    I was reminded of how privileged we are when I read an article this week about how Saudi Arabia is about to allow women to attend sporting events for the first time, with stadiums in Jeddah, Dammam and Riyadh open to women from early next year.

    This may not sound like a big deal, but is another step toward making women feel welcome and included in public spaces, in what is an extremely conservative country that is still very much on its journey towards diversity.

    Mary Konstantopoulos
    Mary Konstantopoulos

    Mary Konstantopoulos is a lawyer, sports advocate and proud owner and founder of the Ladies Who empire, including Ladies who League, Ladies who Legspin, Ladies who Lineout and Ladies who Leap. You can find her podcast on iTunes and find her on Twitter @mary__kaye and @ladieswholeague.

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