Annual contracts with double the pay, the flexibility to study and round-the-clock nannies for players with children. What has for years been a pipedream for women athletes is now reality for players in netball’s new national league.
Suncorp Super Netball, which kicked off last weekend, is determined to rise above the ugly controversy surrounding the poor pay and playing conditions marring other women’s codes such as soccer.
In addition to the new minimum salary of $27,375 which is more than double that of the previous league, a new “parental policy” has been introduced so that players don’t have to choose between being an elite athlete and starting a family. The initiative includes a full-time nanny for children younger than 12 months when players are on the road, and prolonged maternity leave.
Bec Bulley, 34, has returned to the sport, which has the highest participation rate for women of any other code, after retiring in 2015 to have children. She gave birth to her daughter Indie in March last year. Bec admits she would likely have turned down the offer from new Sydney club the Giants if the league had not evolved.
“I was really reluctant because I love being a mum. Fortunately now I get to come back, do something that I love, I get paid pretty well for it now, and I get to have Indie with me at training and games,” she says.
“I probably put off having children because there wasn’t the option of childcare. It just wasn’t done in Australian netball, people didn’t have children and come back to play.”
But she believes the landmark financial incentives and parental schemes have changed that.
“Why not have a child and come back and play when you get such fabulous support?” she asks.
The integrity of women’s sport in Australia has receded in recent years, with controversy surrounding the pay and conditions of female basketballers, AFL players, and football players in particular. Notably, the Matildas boycotted a tour to the US in 2015, citing poor pay in comparison to their male counterparts.
However, the new league will likely put pressure on other codes to follow suit, or risk losing their best talent.
Bulley claims that while crossovers at the professional level are rare, the effect of the changes could “filter down to the grassroots”.
Netball Australia says there is still room to grow and is working towards a fully professional model within the next five years.
“I think overwhelmingly what we’ve aimed to do is set new benchmarks for women,” said Marne Fechner, chief executive of Netball Australia and former junior international representative.
“It’s a privilege to lead an organisation that does what it does for female athletes and females across the country.”
She believes women’s sport is only in the nascency of it’s “commercial evolution”, and therefore expects the whole industry to grow – but other codes will have to do so quickly to keep pace with Suncorp Super Netball.
“I think the product we’re launching is going to be fierce, it’s going to be so competitive, we’ve got the best athletes in the world, and what we’re going to see is more fans, male and female coming to the game, and more junior players wanting to play,” Marne Fechner says.
“It’s a privilege and an honour, and I know there’s a lot of people passionate about our game, so it’s nice to be sitting in my chair”.
[Source: By Sergio Magliarachi
Read more: www.afr.com/business/sport/new-netball-league-sets-benchmark-for-women-athletes-20170220-gugyhn]