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Will Basketball Change its Parenting Policy?

Abby Bishop  and 18 month old Zala with her teammates following their match in Hungary.

Abby Bishop and 18 month old Zala with her teammates following their match in Hungary.

 

It’s 8.30pm in Hungary, baby Zala is asleep and Abby Bishop finds some precious time to talk to Sportette.

The 26 year old has been in Europe for three weeks, training twice a day with only two days off since she arrived.

Along with life as a single mum, it’s been exhausting.

It’s been almost a year since Abby made the difficult decision to withdraw from the National Basketball Team, the Opals, because of their controversial parenting policy. She sacrificed her place in the team, the World Championships and faced a barrage of media.

But life is pretty good.

Abby post match with little Zala.

Abby post match with little Zala.

“I have no complaints Zala’s changed my life for the better it’s opened my eyes to many things and put so much into perspective,” Abby tells Sportettte.

“There are good days and bad days but at the end of the day she’s so loved and I love her so much that it just makes everything better.”

Abby is in Hungary for a short two month stint with Miskolc after a successful year captaining the Canberra Capitals in the WNBL. From here she’ll head over to the U.S after being offered a two year contract with the Seattle Storm to play in the WNBA.

“I played for Seattle in 2010 as a rookie who was filling the roster spot and they’ve had my rights ever since and they’ve just got a new coach who was my assistant coach when I was there.”

“I always wanted to go back and now it’s the right time. I feel like I’m hitting some peak form with my basketball.”

It was Seattle’s consideration of 18 month old Zala in contract negotiations that sealed Abby’s signature.

“They’ve welcomed Zala with open arms which is obviously something that’s really important to me,” Abby tells Sportette.

“They’ve said that the nanny and Zala can come on road trips if she needs to be at practice she can be. And for the WNBA that’s a huge thing to have a kid at practice, of course she’s not going to be there, but if my nanny’s sick she might have to come, so it’s just nice to know that I don’t have to panic and stress and worry about it.”

It was a different response Abby received from Basketball Australia last year. A key player in the Opals, Abby’s world was turned upside down in 2013 when she became the sole carer of her sister’s baby, Zala when she was just two days old. Overnight she went from basketball star to single mum.

Abby and Zala in matching Seattle outfits with Abby signing a two year deal with the WNBA club.

Abby and Zala in matching Seattle outfits with Abby signing a two year deal with the WNBA club.

It sent Basketball Australia into a spin as they quickly drafted a controversial parenting policy to cater for the situation. The document proved draconian, outdated and drew criticism from other sports, including the then Netball Queensland CEO Anna Carroll, who called for a more open mind towards motherhood and professional sport in this article for Sportette.

In the end BA’s policy left Abby had no choice but to pull out of the Opals squad and the World Championships. Australia lost one of its best players from the team and it sent a dangerous message to women in sport.

“I’m not asking for everything to be paid for that some people assumed I wanted but just something’s that fair,” Abby said.

“Even something there about unique situations. I don’t want pity and I don’t want people to feel sorry for me, absolutely not, but I want to play for my country, I feel like I’m good enough to and I can help the team but without them helping me with Zala it’s never going to work.”

“I think as women in sport we’re entitled to do those things even if we do have a child. So I guess for me I just want the parenting policy to be something that’s fair.”

Enabling Zala and the nanny to stay in the same accommodation on away trips, was one simple form of assistance sought, but denied under the policy.

Abby’s WNBL team, the Canberra Capitals, took a much different response, supporting its captain throughout the season.

“They helped so much, I had 12 hours a week of childcare in my contract which doesn’t sound like a lot to other people but it was a lot because it was every team practice pretty much Zala was taken care of in terms of child care,” Abby tells Sportette.

“Zala was also allowed to come on the road trips, I would always get a room to myself so that Zala was welcome.”

“They have to be able to stay in the same accommodation as them, how can you breast feed or care for a child without being in the same accommodation?”

That support was returned tenfold by Abby on the court, named the Capitals MVP for 2014 and by season’s end the WNBL MVP.

Abby has also now been named in the Opals squad by coach Brendan Joyce for their upcoming Olympic qualifiers. There’s also been a strong push for Basketball Australia to review the parenting policy.

“I did some research on where Basketball Australia’s policy sits in comparison to netball and soccer especially. There were some key major differences which I found appalling that we need to change immediately considering we’ve got some of the highest paid and most professional women basketballers in the world,” Jacob Holmes, President of the Players Association, told Sportette.

Abby and Zala on court with the Miskolc team thanking fans after one of their matches.

Abby and Zala on court thanking fans after one of Miskolc’s matches.

 

The Players Association took over the women’s players association in December and Holmes, who plays for the Townsville Crocs, wasted no time taking up the case and meet with new CEO Anthony Moore directly about the policy.

“We didn’t even mention in our policy that we’d apply flexibility or take into account individual circumstances, which is a key one that impacts on Abby in that her circumstances were very different, they require a lot of understanding.”

“From then on the key ones are financial that, as with Netball Australia, we require some costs associated with a support person to be involved in that policy.”

“We feel that it’s fundamental that these athletes can compete and if we’re talking major events, we feel that the funding for a player with a child to go on those tours and events is quite common sense. Taking into account it’s never going to be 12 players who are going to do that, it’s never going to be the whole team.”

“I feel like it’s really against everything we’re about in the 21st century to have people who have children not be able to compete in the national setup. We’ve moved on from that.”

“I feel like it’s really against everything we’re about in the 21st century to have people who have children not be able to compete in the national setup. We’ve moved on from that.”

Jacob admits he too was shocked at how limiting the policy was especially when it came to accommodation arrangements.

“They have to be able to stay in the same accommodation as them, how can you breast feed or care for a child without being in the same accommodation? I don’t understand how that even got in there it just seems without common sense,” Jacob told Sportette.

The Players Association says, so far, talks with Basketball Australia have proved positive and Moore has been responsive to calls to change the policy.

But most reassuring is the amount of support Abby received after the situation was first reported in the media. The story grew worldwide attention and with that came praise for Abby’s stance on the parenting policy.

“I felt a relief that people were on my bandwagon with what was happening. They totally agreed that the parental policy wasn’t at a level where it should be for a women’s sport and especially in a unique situation like this,” Abby told Sportette.

For now, Miskolc’s season is Abby’s focus before heading to Seattle. But while the world is at her feet, Rio remains on her basketball bucketlist.

“For me I would love to go to another Olympics that’s a goal that I have written down,”

“But in terms of being a little kid and writing everything down what I wanted to achieve, I have done that now. It’s just about trying to set myself now, that’s really important now that I have Zala aswell.”

Regardless of Rio, women in sport will be better off in the future because of Abby’s brave stance on Basketball Australia’s outdated parenting policy. It will pave the way for more inclusive considerations to be made in the future.

“Abby is a great ambassador for women’s rights especially on this issue, but she’s had to sacrifice something that no player wants to miss out on, the World Championships,” Jacob tells Sportette.

“I think it impacted on their (The Opals) chances of winning a gold medal, they came away with the bronze but I think with Abby Bishop in the team they would have done better and I truly believe that.”

“So it’s hurt not only her, but it’s hurt Basketball Australia in terms of our results and we want to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Let’s hope, however, change won’t come too late for Abby and Rio.

 

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