Netball pay battle

I read a story in this weekend’s Courier-Mail which mentions a “wages battle” that is apparently happening in Australia’s national netball league at the moment. It reports players from all teams in each of the four First Round matches of this year’s national league participated in short on-court protests before the start of their games.

The report also says that “Netball Australia is set to hand negotiations back to individual states once a minimum salary band of about $1500 is agreed.” The Queensland Firebirds team “should receive between $1500 and $4500 each including training and travelling allowances and match payments.

The story also mentions “speculation that Victorian Sports Minister, Justin Madden, will call on every state Sports Minister to hold a forum to help improve the payment to Australia’s sportswomen.”

Rather symptomatically, this story wasn’t in the online version of the Courier-Mail, and I also couldn’t find a mention of it anywhere else online.

I’m not pretending to be a netball fan, although that’s not specifically because it’s ‘women’s sport’. I don’t find basketball (men’s or women’s) particularly interesting either.

I also don’t suggest that the problem of very low pay for most elite sportswomen can be solved be pretending that this isn’t basically a function of market forces. If there’s insufficient public interest – whether through attendances or television audiences (and flow on aspects like commercial sponsorship and merchandise) – then it won’t be economic to provide decent payment. However, media coverage and promotion is obviously a key aspect of this, and this is usually very poor for women’s sport. It is certainly worth examining what things are getting in the way of this situation being improved.

I mention all this by way of noting that there is currently a Senate inquiry into the issue of women’s sport in Australia, which is being conducted by the Committee that I am Chair of. Despite the official name being the Environment, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts References Committee, it also covers the additional area of Sport.

The Terms of Reference for the inquiry can be found be clicking here. It covers much more than just pay issues for elite female athletes, including participation rates at community level and health and social benefits. If you know anyone interested in the topic, please encourage them to put in a submission.

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  1. Andrew you hit the nail on the head re: “I also don’t suggest that the problem of very low pay for most elite sportswomen can be solved be pretending that this isn’t basically a function of market forces. If there’s insufficient public interest – whether through attendances or television audiences (and flow on aspects like commercial sponsorship and merchandise) – then it won’t be economic to provide decent payment.”

    I can think of many low profile sports, where players dedicate themselves, with no financial return, in fact the sport is only an expense.

    Good luck to the netballers if they can negotiate a better income stream. However, it sort of resembles the argument about pay parity between men and women in tennis grand slams – one argument is if both play over five sets, then they should get equal pay.

  2. “I also don’t suggest that the problem of very low pay for most elite sportswomen can be solved be pretending that this isn’t basically a function of market forces.”

    This is probably the most sensible thing you have ever said. And it doesn’t just apply to women – what about men that play unpopular sports? Like korfball or canoe waterpolo.

    Netballers might be good at putting a ball in a net but they’re not very good businessmen. Where would the money for their higher salaries come from?

    Take a look at netball crowds. They’re full of little girls. Little girls don’t have much buying power. So you can hardly charge high ticket prices or attract big sponsers. As a result commerical TV stations won’t touch it.

    Here’s my submission to your enquiry – If you want to earn big money play a different sport.

  3. I do not believe it is totally marketing at fault here. Netball players are promoted quite well considering they don’t play AFL, rugby or soccer…so I am surprised to hear of their low pay levels. Again the media have a very influential role and it is true many crowds at netball games are young girls…so maybe this game needs to be promoted more towards mothers and women to play; and there ARE men who play netball and find it a physically demanding game – why not start promoting these mens and mixed teams (eg. Darwin and Hobart both have mixed team leagues, very competitive) and change this “girly” image of netball to one of skill and athleticism. Currently it is promoted as a “skirt” sport which is unfair as the athletes skills get little respect, it’s all about the skirt length factor… But it satisfies the Australian public requirement that males continue to be “dominant” in our society…

  4. Some good comments above, but in general I think sport is unhealthily (!) overemphasized in Australia and the more popular sports participants are grossly and immorally overpaid, as are many corporate executives. I think it a pity it was ever commercialised.
    Roger Callen

  5. ‘what about men that play unpopular sports? Like korfball or canoe waterpolo.’

    Are those real sports? What the hell is a korfball?

    I spent three seasons managing the bar at a local lacrosse club when I was younger. I spent several hours at the club on Tuesday and Thursday nights, and came in early on Saturday mornings to run the bar and canteen throughout the day until night-time when the games were over. I didn’t get paid a single cent for this activity, and neither did the hundreds of other people I saw on a weekly basis – the volunteers who coached, managed, scored, set up, and played every week, from five years old to eighty years old.

    Lacrosse is a great sport, and it draws a lot of people to games, but no-one ever expected to get funding, because it’s not a sport that the whole country cares about. It is hard enough for most clubs to even find an available ground for the season, due to the heavy demand from AFL clubs.

    I’d much rather the government put more funding into smaller community sports clubs than pay more money to netball players or any other small community sport. Netball is not a big bucks game, so why pour money into it alone? If we’re going to improve sports funding (which I think we should, because sport is actually good for you), it should happen across thr board.

    Wow, who would have thought I’d care so much about sport? I didn’t even realise!

  6. Did any contributors try to get Netball tickets at the recent Commonwealth Games? I eventually got tickets to one match and the semi-finals. The ‘girls’ were very much outnumbered by older folk. I could not get tickets for the final.

    I think the people who have contributed their opinions have not been very involved with the netball community. I played as a schoolgirl and continued to play until middle-age. I also umpired and coached throughout my career.

    It is said that Netball has the highest participation rate of any sport in Australia (not sure where to verify this statement).

    I feel our society should encourage females of all ages to participate in sports.

  7. How much money does this sport generate? Let me try and have a go at this one without thinking to hard. Take Victoria only.

    106,689 registered players in Victoria (all paying reg fees)

    Example: One players with a certain Vic club paying approx $400 for the Autumn and Spring season plus $220 for gear. Many girls love the sport that much they play for two to three different clubs (more money outlayed)
    Think for a moment how much revenue netball generates, shoes, sox, uniforms, Track pants, windcheaters, playing dress, warm up T-shirt,Netballs, Building Netball courts around the nation in schools and parks revenue fron elite games.Now tv coverage on abc 2 digital , you would have to purchase a digital box to view it. These girls are our countries cream , the best of the best, fit,most are well educated,well presented, very friendly to thier fans and all have true grit when they play. They are this countries show case girls.I know for a fact that girls young and old check out what shoes certain elite girls wear and even hair style and then go out copy them. (generating more spending.

    It is the biggest team played sport in Australia and our girls are playing it in front of Prime Ministers and representing our country oversea just like our Army.However , without the correct wages of a job based on their time, ablity, knowledge, experience,exposure to the world and expenses occured in undertaking their tasks at an elite level!
    P.s. In Victoria, primary and secondary school are about to compete, in netball,with one and other. How good is that,hundreds of schools thousands of children all with their different dress etc. Don’t that just say it all. How valuable to this country are our elite netballs and where is all the money generated going?

  8. i totally agree rod. hello people this is an elite sport here. we;re talking 5 (if not 6) days hard training, match one day and holding down a job to support themselves. and if you think that it is only a girls sport you are kidding yourslef. boys love the stuff, and they’re really good at it. these girls are all very well educated (because they have to be to get a job)and many are at uni. this is not a sport to be compared to the likes of ‘korfball’ it is a major sport-the most participated sport in Australia, it is not unpopular at all!the woman that represent australia are representing their country not just their footy club or town. they are travelling the world to play hard netball, and they are #2 in the world!hows that for having no support!
    go netballers, you should be paid a gazillion dollars.

  9. The points made in the last few comments are key. Despite what I said in my original post and comments 1 and 2, there clearly are some women’s sports that are immensely popular. A lot of people playing a sport does not mean it will be commercially successful and generate adequate incomes for its best players – as soccer has shown in Australia.

    However, a sport that is played by huge numbers of women means there should potential for some commercial success and it is worth at least looking at what the barriers to wider success might be and whether some could be removed.

    Having said, the recent action by the ABC in appearing to sack their female commentator, Anne Sargeant, from their netball coverage because she was supposedly too old, and replacing her with a younger woman, hardly gives one much confidence in the attitudes of those who oversee sports coverage – even when women’s sport is involved.

  10. Andrew the statement you made “a lot of people playing a sport does not mean it will be commercially successful and generate adequate incomes for its players- as soccer has shown in Australia”.

    Recently I was a spectator at a local aussie rules football match in victoria (a suburban match). I estimated the crowd was approx. 150. The game was free to watch. When certain players performed poorly the crowd would call out, ” you are not worth $1000 a game”! That is what I heard on numurous occassions directed at players.

    My point is : a suburban game, no gate fees, club paying $1000 to certain players a game. It
    appears to me that if you play football you get well payed no matter how many spectators turn up, and it is free to watch.

    Who is funding these football clubs. I suggest our elite netballers find out and get some of it. Could it be Vic. govt. supported?

    P.S a crowd of 3300 paid to watched elite netball at vodafone arena yesterday.

    Food for thought.


  11. As a netballer who has represented my club, my region and my state, I completely understand the frustrations felt by Australia’s elite players. I have been a dedicated and determined netballer for about 10 years and would still be today if I could make a career out of it. However, after reaching state level and having to pay thousands of dollars to compete around Australia, I was unable to continue. I found this extremely disturbing considering my boyfriend’s national’s trips were always completely subsidised. When finishing school I faced the decision of whether to get a full time job to enable me to play, or whether to go to uni. I am now at uni studying to assist in creating a future for myself which is financially feasible, though missing netball every day. I feel for these girls who signed up to play netball (Australia’s most popular team sport) at a young age, dreaming to one day play in the top leagues. Girls who have the talent and ability to achieve those goals, but simply cannot financially afford to do so. Netball is unlike the unknown sports listed above, as it is a popular and competitive sport, with thousands of player’s nation wide. Those girls in the elite teams have beaten thousands of others to be there. That is an achievement worth rewarding. I would suggest that if Australian’s wish to maintain a national netball team, that they start not only supporting them, but supporting netball as a sport at each and every level.

  12. Look, women are treated really badly when it comes to professional sports. The media has a persuasive hand in the way we comprehend the world and how we visualize things subconsciously. It is they who feed us these images of female athletes. When you read an article about an athletic female individual/team and there is a picture to help accommodate the article, think about the subtext and how it makes you feel. They dress female athletes in somthing revealing and get them to stand in a provocative pose, this is a technique meant to benefit publishers not the athlete. As much as i have side-tracked from the issue at hand, this is a valid reality and one that needs attention. Sex sells female sport more than their actual success.

  13. Andrew I wish to thank you for keeping me informed on this important issue.

    “Permanent netball court at local school for school/community use”

    Apart from what I have written in response “Netball Pay battle ” I have recently submitted, by post, to your commitee aprox. 20 pages of correspondence, covering a two year period,regarding permanent netball court for school and community use. I firmly believe that the girls are not given a fair, just and equal chance to play netball in my community!
    I would be greatful to know if you have received my correspondence and please let me know what you think of it asap.

    After reading my correspondence you will appreciate I have put a great deal of time and research into trying to establish permanent netball rings at the school; the court is already established and marked to play on!

    P.S You may wish to email me direct.

  14. Andrew,

    I am very interested to get your feed back on my 20 page report into establishing netball rings at a local secondary school. re comment 13 Wages for netballers.

  15. Sorry Rod – I will get back to you with a proper response.

    While I’m back on this thread, I should note that the Senate Committee has completed it’s report into this topic. You can access the report by clicking here.

    It is a unanimous report with 18 recommendations. While I was Chair of the Committee, it is fair to say that the majority of the work was done by Labor’s Kate Lundy and the Liberal’s Michael Ronaldson.

    Tabling the report was actually my final act as Chair of the Committee, as the following week the government took over the Chairs of all Committees and also gave themselves a majority on all of them.

    This also seems like the right place to note the magnificent effort by the Australian women’s basketball team to win the world championship. It was pleasing to see that this did receive a reasonable amount of media coverage – we’ll see if that’s just a one off or whether it is something that can be built on. The Senate Committee report does contain evidence that women’s sport can rate in the media with the right support and circumstances – including the fact that in 1999 an Australia vs New Zealand world championship final of netball easily outrated a Bledisloe Cup rugby match a few months previously.
    (see para 6.13 and 6.28 onwards)

  16. Andrew I have read the report and can only hope that the Senate committee’s recommendations are actioned asap!

    Netball has not come of age. Vice Captain of the Aussie team receiving soap and a few other goodies for best player in the recent New Zealand & Aussie matches. Great win for the Aussies defeating the World Champs,two games to one, how good is that!

    I am very interested to receive feed back regarding netball rings as stated in correspondence of september 25th, 2006 (responce No14).

    The sporting infrasture I am refering to was built some years ago and to this day is thoughout many schools in Victoria. It was mainly setup for boys paying basketball.

  17. Andrew, just wondering how you are progressing with responding to my requests for a response firstly on 7th August,then again on 25th September and 30th October. I am very interested to receive feed back regarding netball rings as stated in correspondence of September 25th, 2006 (response No14). As you can see I am very passionate about this issue! look forward to your response. Thanks, Rod.

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