Bounced Out of the Game
By Sam Squiers
Abby Bishop’s decision to quit the Australian National Basketball team, the Opals, is a sad indictment on the sport. The situation should never have reached the point where one of our best basketballers felt she had no other choice.
Basketball Australia has introduced a new ‘parenting policy’ that has made it too difficult for Abby to travel with the team to compete in the World Championships in Turkey.
Late last year Abby took custody of her sister’s 2-day old baby, Zala, for personal reasons. It thrust her into the role of single mum at the age of 25. It was a selfless act now made even tougher.
This case had exceptional circumstances and none of which could convince Basketball Australia to budge on its refusal to assist Abby in the costs of accommodation, flights and childcare during the campaign.
BA responded to the request for assistance with the implementation of the ‘parenting policy’ that it says is necessary to maintain “the sanctity of high performance”. A careless and perhaps even heartless statement, BA didn’t see assisting a mother and baby fitting in with its definition of professional sport. But when a player is performing at the top of her game, whether she has a baby or not shouldn’t matter. A woman shouldn’t have to give up playing professionally just because she has had a child and in this case it’s not the usual situation where an athlete decides to have a baby.
If Basketball Australia was implying with this statement that a baby on tour would be a distraction, that’s what Abby was trying to resolve requesting assistance for the cost of a carer to help with little Zala.
The statement simply doesn’t stick, especially when it’s about supporting one of your best players who has worn the green and gold with pride throughout her career, played across the world including in the WNBA in America where she won a championship with Seattle and has been touted as a future Opals captain. Maintaining the sanctity of high performance is about keeping your best players in the team and supporting them in exceptional circumstances
BA also added that they’re “on a limited budget and if we start opening it up to covering the cost of caregivers, we’ll run out of money pretty quickly and won’t win any medals”.
Simply they feel this case will open the floodgates and other athletes will want financial assistance with kids on tours.
This isn’t your typical situation, it is unique and should be treated as such, having the parenting policy deal with incidents on a case-by-case basis would have been a way of avoiding any such implications.
In any case, supporting professional athletes who become mums isn’t some kind of dream concept. It’s the norm for many other sports. Netball Australia, for instance, pays for players to take their children on international tours, providing funds for flights and accommodation for a carer and the child.
Such a policy would have helped Abby. Let’s not forget too that Australia’s female basketballers get paid a lot less than their male counterparts, would finding the money really be beyond Basketball Australia’s budgetary requirements?
The problem does question how BA values its female basketballers. This is, of course, the same organisation that paid for the Boomers (men’s national basketball team) to travel business class to the London Games while the Opals travelled economy, despite being more successful internationally than the men’s team.
You may argue that if this situation were transported to the workplace, no employer would do the same for their employee. A good employer though knows that you treat your employee well, you reap the returns in their production and in Basketball Australia’s case that could well mean their ‘medals’. There’s no law making employers assist but this really isn’t a legal argument.
Nor is it a financial argument. The costs of a carer to travel with Abby, or the costs for a babysitter in Turkey and for Abby to have her own room are not astronomical. A rough calculation will tell you, it’s not a whole lot of money we’re talking about here. But this isn’t about funds.
It’s a moral argument. And given the circumstances surrounding this case and the policies of other professional female sports’ organisations, it’s one Basketball Australia has failed.