Inclusion of Netball in the Olympic Games

About this Item
SubjectsSport and Recreation; Olympic Games
SpeakersMegarrity Ms Alison; Armstrong Mr Ian; Acting-Speaker (Mr Paul Lynch); Collier Mr Barry
BusinessMatter of Public Importance

Page: 11179

    Matter of Public Importance

    Ms ALISON MEGARRITY (Menai—Parliamentary Secretary) [4.42 p.m.]: "What will you remember from the Athens Games?" journalist Matt Price asked in the Daily Telegraph on Tuesday 31 August. In response to his proposition, Matt said:

    The Olympics are like the Melbourne Cup. Both the Games and the great horse race have enthusiasts, but the overwhelming majority of punters start taking notice when the athletes arrive at the barrier and zone out not long after the finish.

    I can see by the reaction of honourable members who are in the Chamber that, like me, they are surprised that such a harsh and cynical statement could be made by a journalist. His fraternity is usually the embodiment of objectivity and positive energy. Honourable members on both sides of the House are demonstrating their hearty endorsement of my assessment. Perhaps he was engaging in another Aussie tradition and "having us on" with that statement. After all, far from a detached observation and short-lived focus on the finish line, our nation's collective obsession with sport reaches fever pitch during the Olympic Games. Everyone I know feels as though they are swimming every stroke, running every metre, hitting every ball and so on. Our "warm down" after the event involves the excitement of reliving the highs and lows with anyone we know who watched the same event.

    Last week's national welcome home parade for the Olympic athletes again demonstrated our community's overwhelming appreciation for the dedication and achievement of every Australian athlete—regardless of whether there were gold medal rewards. People's favourite and moving moments from the Athens Games may be mentioned here today. I am sure that it was a topic of conversation amongst the 100,000 people who lined the parade route, and there were probably more than a few passing references to the events in the Sydney 2000 Games. I hope honourable members who participate in today's debate will join me in encouraging the Australian Olympic Committee [AOC] to make urgent and persistent representations to the International Olympic Committee [IOC] for the inclusion of netball in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and beyond.

    Honourable members may be unaware that technically, at least, netball is an Olympic sport. It was recognised as such in 1995, but it is not included in the summer Olympics program. The International Federation of Netball Associations is a member of the IOC. The All Australia Netball Association is a member of the Australian Olympic Committee and gets to vote at the annual general meeting. Netball was one of the eight foundation sports when the Australian Institute of Sport [AIS] opened in 1981. The netball program run by the AIS is now known as the Australian 21 and under/AIS program and it aims to develop potential elite athletes, and to give players the experience necessary to compete with distinction at both national and international levels. Netball became a part of the Commonwealth Games program in 1998, and Australia won the inaugural Commonwealth Games gold medal.

    Netball is recognised as the largest participation sport in Australia today, with an estimated 1.2 million players. My diverse electorate of Menai encompasses parts of the Liverpool, Sutherland and Bankstown local government areas. As I drive around on the weekends, I think to myself that one of the few things those diverse areas have in common is how many people participate in netball, and the enthusiastic attitude taken by all the associations. That sort of enthusiasm helped deliver 12 new netball courts to the Ridge Sporting Complex in Barden Ridge in my electorate. On the day it was opened, Christine Newman from the Menai Hawks Netball Club and the Minister for the Environment told of how well utilised that facility would be, and it has proved to be well used. The netball courts were part of the State Government's commitment to provide $50 million by 2008 for high-quality sporting facilities to residents of the shire, in what was formerly a waste tip area. I drive around my electorate and look at the Ridge, which is indeed our own field of dreams. Netball has come a long way since the first game, believed to have taken place in England in approximately 1892.

    Mr Ian Armstrong: It was in 1891.

    Ms ALISON MEGARRITY: The honourable member for Lachlan said that it was 1891. Was he present at that game? I am not sure. Netball was probably brought to Australia by English schoolteachers in the early 1900s. Photographic evidence exists of the Parramatta Superior Schools team competing in 1904. In 1927 the all Australian Women's Basketball Association was formed. In fact, netball was known as women's basketball until the name "netball" was adopted in 1970. The business name "Netball Australia" was created in 1995. Traditionally, netball has been identified as a sport for women but there is no reason why it cannot be played with mixed teams, and increasingly more boys and men are becoming involved.

    On Saturday 28 August, as preparations were underway in Athens for the Olympic flame to be extinguished, an exciting contest took place at the Sydney SuperDome in Homebush. A record crowd attended the grand final of the Commonwealth Bank Trophy between the Sydney Swifts and the Melbourne Phoenix. The Swifts came from six goals down in the final quarter to steal a final second 52-51 victory. Julie Fitzgerald, the coach of the Sydney's Swifts, said that the game was won on "pure guts". Both she and Lisa Alexander, the coach of the Phoenix, paid special tribute to the crucial role that Liz Ellis played in the victory. In the following day's media coverage, Alexander was quoted as saying:

    We know that we don't give her the ball. We know if she gets those sorts of intercepts then we have to put up with the consequences, which is what we had to do.

    As soon as Ellis gets her hands on the ball, the crowd goes and everyone in the yellow uniform lifts another 2 per cent.

    I note from the web site of the Sydney Swifts that, on a personal note, Liz and I have a few things in common. Her favourite colour is red. She enjoys reading and cooking, but dislikes cleaning the bathroom. However, the similarities ended when I came to the section on the web site that details her height at 183 centimetres and her typical week of training, namely: Monday, sprints and court work with team; Tuesday, agility and weights session; Wednesday, court work with team and cardio exercises; Thursday, cardio and weights session; Friday, light court work, if away game, game night; Saturday, recovery swim, walk or yoga; and Sunday, rest or train with the Australian squad. That is definitely an Olympic training program. It is time that netball and these high-performance athletes, such as Liz Ellis, who represent their country became part of the world's biggest sporting stage.

    According to Netball Australia's web site, netball is played in approximately 50 countries, 45 of which are affiliated with the International Federation of Netball Associations. Those countries include Canada, India, South Africa, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore, the United Kingdom, Pakistan and Australia. Netball is also growing in the United States of America, with the International Youth World Championships being held in Florida next year. The Olympic charter states:

    1.1 to be included in the program of the Olympic Games, an Olympic sport must conform to the following criteria:

    1.1.1 only sports widely practised by men in at least 75 countries and on four continents, and by women in at least 40 countries and on three continents, may be included in the program of the Games of the Olympiad.

    It seems to me, from all information that I have been supplied, that netball conforms to those criteria. The Olympics, dare I say, need more females in what is pretty much a male-dominated sporting arena. Media exposure is critical for any sport. An ABC commentator, Anne Sargeant, OAM, a former Australian netball captain and the first netballer ever to attract sponsorship, said recently:

    The media's attitude to me has been supportive and positive and I've always appreciated the opportunity it gave me to promote netball. However in the early days the journalists were sometimes a little ignorant or a little reluctant to appreciate the game and how good the skills were at the top level.

    As I said, Anne is an ABC commentator, and we are all grateful that ABC Television shows netball, because no other channel does. However, perhaps Anne's position behind the microphone may lead her to be a little optimistic given these words of Lindsay Cane, the chief of Netball Australia, who said:

    There is no doubt the media trivialise women's sports. We don't want to be recognised for the colour of our uniforms, our fashion sense or our sexuality. We want to be recognised for being professional athletes. These athletes bring back gold to Australia. They bring international recognition. It's about time we stopped trivialising their achievements.

    With no prompting from me, it is interesting that those very views were echoed in a recent conversation I had with Daryl Melham MP, the Federal member for Banks, and Kevin McCormick, OAM, the President of the Bankstown and District Sports Club. They too felt that the general paucity of recognition of netball in the media is reflected by the low level of sponsorship. We all need to be aware of the connection between media exposure of an Olympic sport and the all-important sponsorship dollar that is up for grabs. Those words were echoed by Norma Plummer, the coach of the Australian netball team, when interviewed on ABC's Grandstand on Saturday. She spoke about the overall success of our Olympic team making things just that bit more difficult for so many other sports.

    The countdown to the 2008 Beijing Olympics has already begun. The AOC would need to make urgent and persistent representation to the IOC if more than a million Australian netball players are to be offered a real chance of fulfilling an Olympic dream in the future. Last week more than 100,000 people lined the streets of Sydney to demonstrate their appreciation for the dedication and achievement of Australia's most successful Olympic team. I hope all honourable members will use today's debate to encourage the AOC to kick-start a campaign for the inclusion of netball in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and beyond.

    Mr IAN ARMSTRONG (Lachlan) [4.52 p.m.]: It is a pleasure to support the concept that netball becomes an Olympic sport in the future. After all, it is the most populist sport played in Australia. Every Saturday morning, in virtually every suburb and every country town across the nation, thousands of girls play netball. Indeed, my electorate secretary, Claire Taylor, has two daughters who both play State netball, and Claire is a coach. So I get a fair bit of netball discussed in the office. It is a great and healthy sport. And it does keep many orthopods in business repairing damaged knees! As the honourable member for Menai said, netball is a very old sport. It goes back to 1891, according to the history notes I have been given for today's debate. It is a seven-a-side game that is fast, colourful and exciting, and it can be played by persons of any age. The Opposition Whip, the honourable member for Wagga Wagga, was telling me a while ago that his daughter, who is about 8 or 9 years of age, won her competition last Saturday in Wagga Wagga. I emphasise that netball is an all-people sport.

    Australia has been prominent in netball for many, many years. During an Australian tour of England in 1957 discussions took place concerning standardising the rules of the sport. This led to representatives from England, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the West Indies meeting in Sri Lanka in 1960 to establish the International Federation of Women's Basketball and Netball. Formal rules were established at this inaugural meeting, and it was decided to hold World Championship tournaments every four years, beginning in Eastbourne, England, in 1963. Australia has been part of the international scene from day one. Since then World Championships have been held in Australia in 1967, in Jamaica in 1971, in New Zealand in 1975, in Trinidad and Tobago in 1979, in Singapore in 1983, in Scotland in 1987, in Australia in 1991, in England in 1995 and in New Zealand in 1999. Throughout that period Australia has dominated, winning the World Championships in 1971, 1975, 1979, 1983, 1991, 1995 and 1999. The last World Netball Championship took place in Jamaica, in July 2003.

    As part of the Australian Bicentennial Celebrations in 1988 a Youth Tournament took place in Canberra, for players under 21 years. Its success led to this event being held once every four years. Fiji hosted the second World Youth Netball Championship, Canada the third, and the fourth has just taken place in Wales. Australia won in 1988, 1992, 1996 and 2000. So I think this is properly described as a national sport because, first, Australia has been involved in it since day one, participating in the formulation of the rules of the sport and, second, in terms of records world-class competition and world championships, Australia has proven itself to be the leading netball country in the world. Having said that, I should recognise there is much to be done before netball is seen at the Olympics. I am intrigued that the Government has chosen to raise this matter in the House today—

    Mr Frank Sartor: It's a conspiracy!

    Mr IAN ARMSTRONG: —rather than talk to some members of the Australian Olympic Committee [AOC], some of whom are mates of the Minister. Why not have a word to John Coates? Coatsey, as he is known, has just come back from Greece. Why not have a word to Phil Coles or Kevan Gosper, who are members of the International Olympic Committee [IOC]? The AOC is chaired by John Coates. It might be better to have a quiet lunch with those people in the dining room and say, "Fellows, why haven't you got netball into the Olympics?"

    Mr Frank Sartor: You were on the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games. What did you do about it?

    Mr IAN ARMSTRONG: It is your turn today, Frank; you are in government. Your Government has raised this issue as a matter of public importance. I would have handled it very much on a one-on-one basis.

    Mr Frank Sartor: You failed.

    Mr IAN ARMSTRONG: Frank, you are demonstrating every day that you are a failure simply by being here.

    Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Paul Lynch): Order! If the Minister and the honourable member for Lachlan ceased their banter across the Chamber and stopped provoking each other, the debate may be able to proceed.

    Mr IAN ARMSTRONG: Why has not Australia's face for the Olympics, Mr Michael Knight, a former Labor Minister of this Parliament, been lobbied to ensure that the IOC includes netball in the program for Beijing? But, in the meantime, even if netball is included in those Olympics, there are a few things that the Government needs to do in its own backyard. Currently, netball has a national competition, with New South Wales, Victorian, Queensland, the Australia Capital Territory and Western Australian teams competing. Academies of sport throughout New South Wales included netball as part of their program to encourage and identify talented country athletes, and these are government funded. However, for those programs to be successful and beneficial to country athletes—not coastal and Sydney academy athletes—those academies must provide quality coaches equivalent to those in metropolitan areas.

    Because of travel and the cost of getting such quality coaches to rural areas, more funding must be made available to the netball programs of country academies, and those academies should be more accountable regarding the programs they are providing—because those country academies have a noticeable lack of accountability in their coaching methodologies and so forth. Athletes need to be able to access high levels of competition, and this can be achieved by attending State age and State championships. We must ensure that country athletes have as much access to elite netball competitions as their counterparts in metropolitan areas. These championships need to be held throughout New South Wales, not just in metropolitan and coast areas, to give all athletes access to the competition and as such netball complexes need to be brought up to the standards of Netball New South Wales, and that will require more funding under the Regional Facilities Program. Standards are laid down by Netball New South Wales, yet the Government is failing to ensure an equality of standards throughout the State.

    I hope the Minister for Tourism and Sport and Recreation is listening to this debate. We must ensure that the Government provides adequate funding for netballers from the grassroots level to the elite. But yet again funding is weighted towards the elite, and the grassroots participants, the nursery of any sport, are being starved out. So we are not necessarily availing ourselves of the best talent into the future. If we are to be successful in the Olympics—and I sincerely hope we will be, when netball ultimately is accepted as an Olympic sport—we need to have as broad a base of players as possible, with equal opportunities for training and with sufficient facilities being made available to enable them to demonstrate their prowess. So we need to increase the funding for the country athletes scheme to allow country netballers to access elite netball competition in metropolitan areas, not just State and national competitions, as is currently the case.

    Country athletes do not have equal access to netball competition in metropolitan areas because State and national competitors receive the basic funding. I call upon the Government to continue with the program to try to have netball included as an Olympic sport. I look forward to supporting it. But I look forward also to the Government announcing that it wants netball in the Olympics, and its providing adequate funding to enable netballers to achieve a standard of excellence, upgrade the standard of coaches in country areas, develop responsible academies and enable country athletes to compete at high levels in metropolitan areas. I look forward also to the Government announcing that major competitions will be held in country towns such as Dubbo, Orange, Cowra, Bathurst, Forbes, Junee and Cootamundra, all of which have top-class athletes who need competition. For goodness sake, let us recognise netball for what it is. I support the honourable member in this matter of public importance.

    But let us get fair dinkum. Let us forget the talk and, instead, lobby the Australian Olympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee members. If the Government were to put some money where its mouth is Australia could proudly send its netballers to Beijing. Hopefully, they will return with the appropriate gold medal. But, more importantly, when we are complaining about obesity, particularly among our young kids, it must be pointed out that netball is absolutely fantastic exercise for females of all ages. In addition to the sporting opportunities netball provides let us make it an Olympic opportunity, which will encourage young people and females of all ages to participate in proper exercise, and help them to get rid of those unwanted kilos in a fun way. Good sports make good people, good people make good communities and that is what we need across the State. But for that we need good money from the Government. The Government should stop being tight. It should put its hand in its pocket and get behind the push for netball as an Olympic sport.

    Mr BARRY COLLIER (Miranda) [5.01 p.m.]: Last week we welcomed home our Olympians. We congratulated them on their stunning achievements. But now let us look forward to the next Olympics, Beijing 2008, and the sports in which our athletes will compete. Netball must be one of those sports. Honourable members may ask: Why should netball be an Olympic sport? I say: Why not? The case for netball as an Olympic sport is compelling. We are not talking about some new obscure sport played in a handful of small nations in remote corners of the globe. Netball was first played in England in 1892. It arrived in Australia in the early 1900s with schoolteachers from that country. It is played by more than 7 million people and in 69 countries across Europe, Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas. The A to Z of participating countries runs from American Samoa to Zimbabwe, and includes the two most populous nations on earth, India and China—which is the Olympic host nation in 2008.

    Netball is the world's most popular team sport for women, and for that reason alone it should be included in the Olympics. Beijing 2008 is a golden opportunity to give netball the Olympic status it deserves. Netball is international. There have been 11 netball world championships since 1963, but not one Olympic medal. Netball has been a full medal sport in the Commonwealth Games since 1998, but not an Olympic sport. There is simply no good reason why netball should not be included in the Olympics in 2008, 2012 and beyond. If it is really fair dinkum the Australian Olympic Committee must act to promote the inclusion of netball now, right now, not wait until after construction work begins in Beijing or tickets go on sale. What does it mean for Australia? It means more than just another gold medal to add to our impressive tally, although that is a real possibility. It means aims and aspirations, heroes, recognition and development of a sport that is played by 1.5 million Australians every week.

    Netball accommodates women and, increasingly, men of all ages, backgrounds and abilities. It has the largest number of participants of any sport in Australia. Some 8,000 schools have netball as part of their physical education programs. There are 5,000 clubs with more than 610 competitions associated with Netball Australia. Netball was one of the eight foundation sports when the Australian Institute of Sport was established in 1981, which confirms that Australian netball representatives are elite athletes. They deserve their place in Beijing in 2008. Our netballers, having won eight of the 11 world championships held since 1963, have every prospect of bringing home the gold medal. I can just imagine the hero faxes sent to Beijing by our enthusiastic young netballers and their supporters back home.

    On Saturday in my electorate I see thousands of youngsters, officials, umpires, supporters and their families gathered on and around netball courts. Bellingarra Road, Miranda, is the headquarters of the Sutherland Shire Netball Association. With 7,000 members the Sutherland Shire Netball Association is the largest single netball association in the world. In July 2004 the association hosted the State Age Championships for New South Wales top junior representative teams at the Bellingarra Road complex, which meant 7,000 players, officials and spectators at the courts on each of the three days. The championships involved 282 teams in four age groups from 12 to 15 years and a gruelling program of up to 24 games. On 1 July association president, Julie Ninness, told the St George and Sutherland Shire Leader:

    This is the most prestigious junior netball event of the year and it's a tribute to the Shire that we have been chosen to host it.

    As with every event I have seen hosted by the Sutherland Shire Netball Association, the 2004 State Age Championships ran like clockwork. I congratulate president Julie Ninness, secretary Vicki Morris, the committee, coaches, umpires, players, supporters, sponsors and volunteers on the success of the championships and on their ongoing commitment to the wonderful sport of netball. We need the same commitment from our Olympic committee members. We need netball as an Olympic sport in Beijing in 2008. We need our Olympic Committee to really score a goal for netball. When our youngsters see the Olympic rings light up in Beijing in 2008, the Olympic rings linking the continents, let them think of them also as netball rings.

    Ms ALISON MEGARRITY (Menai—Parliamentary Secretary) [5.06 p.m.], in reply: I thank the honourable members who spoke to this matter of public importance. Obviously I am somewhat disappointed that the honourable member for Lachlan took the opportunity to score what he perceived to be a couple of cheap political points, but he recovered and moved on to a bipartisan approach. I thank him for the positive things he said about netball. We need a lot of people to say a lot of positive things to progress the cause. He asked about the timing of bringing this matter of public importance to the House. As I said earlier, on the very same weekend that the Olympics were winding up it struck me that the exciting contest at the Sydney SuperDome between the Swifts and the Phoenix could not have been more tense or more exhilarating than any of the Olympic events I had seen in the previous two weeks. It is important that we use every opportunity to progress the cause.

    On that same weekend I was quoted in the Sunday papers and spoke on radio about starting the campaign to have netball included as an Olympic event at Beijing and beyond as the countdown to Beijing begins. I will take the words of wisdom spoken in this Chamber and the thoughts of those who were not able to contribute because of time constraints to the Australian Olympic Committee [AOC] and the International Olympic Committee. The AOC must recognise the groundswell of support for netball not only among members in this place but in Sydney, across New South Wales and throughout Australia. As Norma Plummer said on ABC Radio Grandstand on Saturday afternoon, Australia is ranked No. 2 in the world for netball, and we hope to regain that No. 1 spot. But it is not a lay down misère. Our athletes, although not paid professionally, are professional in their attitude and training. They work very hard to compete at the elite level.

    I have referred to the efforts of both Anne Sargeant and Liz Ellis to promote the sport. The management and administration of netball at all levels seek to raise the profile and to maintain the pressure to ensure that what was recognised as an Olympic sport in 1995 is included in the summer Olympic program. We are asking for no more or less than that today. Our thoughts should be with the boys and girls, and the men and women who play netball who would like the chance, as the honourable member for Miranda stated, to see the Olympic rings as netball rings and to participate and represent their country on what is the greatest sporting stage. Our thoughts are with and have been with all the Olympic athletes, as well as those who did not make it to Athens. We must support and encourage everyone. When I was making public comments about netball I referred to handball and my thoughts turned to the people in my electorate who tried to make the Australian Olympic team.

    European handball was the only Olympic event in which Australia did not compete. But we did have an Australian presence at the women's final: HRH Crown Princess Mary of Denmark attended the game at which Denmark prevailed over Korea in a penalty shoot-out. Even if we did not have an Australian team in the event, at least we had an Australian presence. Given the enthusiasm of the amateur league in Australia, the handball players will get there; they will have the opportunity to compete and represent their country. They are up against professionals from overseas, some of whom are paid hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. Considering that there is no handball pedigree in Australia, I think we do very well to be competitive, and there is indeed large potential for growth in that sport.

    Today's debate is not about saying that some sports should be deleted from the Olympics program to make room for netball. All I can say is that, having watched some Olympic events, it seems that everything except dodgeball gets a guernsey these days, so surely there is room for netball. If there is a debate about sports having to be deleted from the Olympics program, so be it; but it is not up to me to decide that. I will conclude my remarks with a quote from Anne Sargent:

    Each generation builds on the previous one. I think that is true of all sports. Maybe you plant a few seeds that are individually yours, but you are an extension of what has gone before. Tradition should be important to us and it is missing from a lot of sports, and female sports in particular. I envy the Olympic movement for that camaraderie and tradition that seems to go across all the Olympic sports.

    All we are asking for is that our boys, girls, men and women have their chance to have their moment on the Olympic podium and to have their moment on the world's stage in what is a legitimate and popular sport.

    Discussion concluded.

    Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Paul Lynch): Order! It being almost 5.15 p.m. I propose to proceed to the taking of private members' statements.