NOT Left or Right, Seriously NOT ALP, LIB or Green. Just a Punter... more

07 Aug 2021

You only care because they are winning πŸ™„

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As many of you know, I am a massive advocate for Women In Sport, I sink hours of my life tweeting about it, trying to promote it, every Sunday do a #BallsOnly session trying to shame Australia’s sports editors into taking Women’s sport seriously and give it the prominence it deserves in media. I love sport. I am proud that in the last 5 years that I have been doing #BallsOnly that I have gotten a few onboard, more proud that I have been able to attract more ‘sports fans’ to have a look, give women’s sport a chance and converted quite a few to be fans.

As Liz Ellis, Diamonds great, now sports commentator has said, “It's not women's sport. It's sport”.

Even as I get depressed on a Sunday rarely seeing Women’s sport pieces getting over a lousy 24% representation in our sports media splashes, I have also seen many ‘Sports’ fans shift their views and come to appreciate women’s sport, be it AFLW, NRLW, Netball, you name it. Because sport is sport, if you really like sport, pretty good chance you will like women’s sport too if you give it a go.

 

 

I also have to admit to a smug satisfaction when I see pieces of sportsmen behaving badly. Women’s sport may not get the same money, kudos and respect that men’s sport does, but they sure as hell are better role models in general.

You will rarely see a scandal involving a female athlete, they are not facing courts for sexual abuse, breaching covid, they are not getting drunk on flights, the list goes on… Most women athletes appreciate the position they have, they rarely shy away from being role-models, in fact, revel in it and honoured to be able to play the sport the love in any form of elite level.

 

 

This presents me with a dilemma, as yes, I want women in sport to get the same media attention as the men, I want female athletes being paid as well as the men, I want women’s sporting competitions getting big sponsors and hype in sports media, I want to drop the stupid “W’s” from the women’s versions of sports πŸ™„ Pretty much, I want all the ‘good stuff’ the men’s sport have without the shitty entitled behaviour and scandals. This means it is hypocritical to gloss over failings in Women’s sport.

In general bad behaviour or scandals have not been too much of a problem. About as spicy as it gets are the  likes of the Matildas not winning Gold as many want and expect. Talk about massive expectations FFS! They are even getting “what did they do wrong” style pieces in sports pages now. Once the mainstream dudes are criticising poorer performances, well, you know they are starting to take you seriously πŸ˜‰

Super W, NRLW, AFLW, WTA, WBBL, W-League, AWIHL and more, I love it all, some sports more than others obviously and my first love is Netball, which would come as a surprise to no-one, though NRLW comes a close second and AFLW, which I am relatively new to, is really starting to push both those sports for fave position in my sports hierarchy.

For months now I have been really conflicted over my love for netball.

My issue is that netball has always been problematic. It is very much straight, white, comfy middle class. Even those of us who love it will sadly joke that diversity in the Diamonds is being a brunette or redhead. Sad, but true. At least this is starting to be addressed. It has taken too long, and as a fan of 40 odd years, I sincerely hope that current plans to address lack of Indigenous representation and inclusion of all in general are not something still being discussed in years to come.

 

 

The other big issue with netball is lack of accountability and communication. I think this has come from grassroots Association netball where committees of hard working volunteers keep the whole show on the road and everyone is appreciative of what they do. From the moment you step onto a court as a little kid you are groomed to never question an umpire (not a bad thing), always say please and thank you and accept the on court decisions. Most times Association committees do the right thing by most in the association, but you are still talking about human beings and cliques of human beings, issues will arise and even if the result is really unfair, you cop it, the adage being, well, if you want to change the result of these things, get off your butt and get on the committees, in the meantime, appreciate the work they do and suck it up. Which, is pretty fair.

Problem is, too often Netball Australia and Super Netball by extension behave in the same way. From introducing a gimmick rule to Super Netball without any warning to either fans or players, regardless of their own survey results telling them “Not today, not ever: Your reaction to the 2-point shot” to merging the boards of Netball Australia and Super Netball into one, something no-one saw coming and was oblivious to until it just happened and was announced. The vibe is always the same, we know best, if you don’t like it, suck it up and no, we won’t explain our reasoning to you, trust us.

That vibe is fine at the association level, it is not at the elite sport level. Imagine that sort of stuff happening in NRL or AFL? Commentators, fans and the like would go ballistic. You couldn’t say move on, nothing to see here. This is where netball not having the same exposure in sports media it deserves benefits, as there is not the same scrutiny on them.

Having said this, I do have hope for better accountability for decisions in future. The new CEO of Netball Australia, Kelly Ryan, who only started a few months ago and has had a baptism of fire with Covid relocations all over the nation in recent weeks to keep the competition alive has shown herself already willing to speak with fans in various forums and hold press conferences explaining to fans and media what is happening, when she knows it, which is really promising and the sort of transparency Netball Australia has been sorely needing.

An example of this is the Fever Vixens drama in June which was a lot of she said, she said, when Vixens could not take key players with them to Perth due to Covid restrictions and it resulted in the game being cancelled, though Fever in their initial statement sheeted all blame to Vixens with their “refused to travel” line and then further to that, wanting compensation for lost revenue for that game which would have been at a packed RAC Arena. Something not received well by many fans, considering the salary cap breach as you can imagine. Kelly Ryan was quick to say would be an investigation. This is encouraging. Unfortunately this new era of accountability and communication with fans is too late when it comes to the ramifications of the West Coast Fever salary cap scandal as Kelly Ryan was not in the role obviously when decisions were made.

 

 

You combine less scrutiny from sports media and a mostly compliant fan base groomed to do as they told, well, it means the governing body of netball really doesn’t need to be accountable and probably one of the worst sporting scandals in recent years has pretty much flown under the radar with the chickens coming home to roost in coming weeks 😞

For those unaware of what I am alluding to, it is the West Coast Fever Salary Cap Breach.

Like most professional sporting competitions Super Netball has a salary cap to ensure a level playing field. Back in December 2020 it was announced that West Coast Fever had made payments of $127,954 above the Total Player Payment cap in 2018 (19.7% above cap) and payments of $168,659 above the cap in 2019 (25.3% above cap). For a lot of sporting competitions this may not sound like a lot of money, as some fortunate NRL or AFL players alone earn more than that per year. Although for a competition where that cap covers 10 players, to be 25% over, is a massive deal.

West Coast Fever copped the following penalty:
A $300,000 fine -$150,000 suspended fine, to be paid if the Total Player Payment rules are breached again in the next three years. $75,000 to be paid in the 2020/21 financial year and $75,000 to be paid in 2021/22 financial year and loss of premierships points for three games (12 premiership points) in the 2021 season.

At the time, being in December it really did not get a lot of coverage. The season was over, summer sports had started, not to mention Christmas and Covid outbreaks looming. Combine this with the aforementioned minimal interest from Australian sports media in general when it comes to women’s sport meant Netball Australia and Super Netball pretty much got to announce the breach, do a press conference that really answered no questions, handed out some penalties that no-one really paid much attention to and we were all then told to just move on. Which is pretty much what happened.

The issue didn’t really raise it’s head again until this year when the season started.

 

 

Netball fans realised that 3 games was nothing. Not even close to being a legit penalty and were not happy about it. Of course many fans just accepted the old netball adage of “decision has been made, get over it and get on with”. For some this was not good enough, for many ‘sports fans’, the ones we have been trying to attract to the game and told we desperately need when implementing rubbish like the Super shot (yeah I really hate the super shot) to “add an element of thrill to the matches” they were like WTF?! Largest salary cap breach in history of the game and they cop only 3 lousy games?

Fans of NRL and AFL are familiar with Salary Cap breaches and expect penalties, both treat a little bit differently, AFL seems to be big on fines and taking away stuff like draft picks and sometimes suspensions, NRL seems to be more on big fines and loss of games. Considering Netball does not have draft picks, loss of games is a no-brainer for them. Considering the percentage of the salary cap breached and the period of the breach, the closest comparison to the West Coast Fever breach in another code would be the Canterbury Bulldogs in 2002, it was paying over the salary cap over a two year period like Fever and a similar percentage of the cap. They got fined the maximum amount available at the time, $500k, and stripped of 37 competition points which effectively ended their season and made it moot. Not only did they have a wasted season they also had to shed some players for the next season to get under that salary cap.

When you look at this comparison with Fever only being stripped of 3 games, well, it is weak, really weak. Considering in 2018 when they were over the cap they played in a Grand Final, taking the legitimate spot off another team, most likely Giants. It was a terrible look, they should not have been there and took that spot off another team. Being in a Grand Final is not just an honour, it has ramifications via exposure for both players and the clubs involved when it comes to sponsorship and further opportunities, so a pretty big deal.

Now in 2021 with the pitiful 3 game penalty being applied, they are not only in the top 4 but front-runners to take out the minor Premiership and win the whole Premiership itself. Which is staggering and truly illustrates the penalty did not fit the crime.

As mentioned earlier, we did not really get any details as to how the salary cap breach occurred, who was responsible, what actions had been taken to address etc., We were told those responsible had left the club, but were not named, the players and coach knew nothing about it and it would not happen again. Move on…

Well, no.

 

 

Yes, it is Netball Australia with the inadequate penalty, though I am with Bec Loader and her response.

To be frank, I am even suspect that in 2020 they were under the salary cap. Maybe technically, due to covid hitting and JobKeeper being utilised this forced them to be under the cap, as it was not reported until the end of 2020 that they had even been over the cap for 2018 & 2019 and why would they ‘fix’ a salary cap issue for 2020 they supposedly did not know about until the end of 2020? That does not make sense.

Not to mention there no changes in the team between the 2019 squad and the 2020 squad. They all suddenly got less "additional support the club was willing to offer during their contract"? Covid didn’t hit until March, so you would have to assume those playing in the 2020 season, at least when they signed on for the 2020 season were on the same benefits they were getting in the 2019 season that had them over the cap? Players rarely go backwards in contracts?

Another massive issue is the player personnel. As Ashleigh Brazill stated in the recent episode of the “Centre Court” in hoping the Magpies team can stay together as "you create success by being together" and gave example of West Coast Fever being in their current high position because they have had pretty much the same team for the past 3 to 4 years and the bulk of their team for about 6 years. This is very true, even your high school netballer knows that the longer you play with a core group of players the better chance of success you have for obvious reasons.

This is particularly relevant to West Coast Fever, they have built and retained a top class team on the basis of cheating via the salary cap. If they had not cheated the cap would they have retained their best players? Would they have retained their younger players they had built and were now worth more money? There have been very few changes at Fever and certainly not their big name players, as mentioned earlier, in other codes salary cap breaches, players are inevitably shed to fit under the cap, not so with Fever.

From the 2018 Squad which was 19.17% over the cap and going into the 2019 season they shed only 2 players, Nat Medhurst and Annika Lee-Jones. Nat Medhurst was a marquee player replaced with Alice Teague-Neeld who was not of the same calibre and Annika Lee-Jones was a bench player replaced with another promising young bench player in Olivia Lewis.

Somehow, even with shedding a marquee player, Fever went higher again over the salary cap for the 2019 season by 25.3%?! Note it can only be assumed that the decision to dump Medhurst had nothing to do with being over the cap as supposedly not aware at that stage.

Then come 2020, they had exactly the same team as 2019, yet for some reason, never explained to us, were not deemed to be over the cap?

Come 2021 and they still have that same core group of players – remember that comment about a core group staying together makes a successful team?

The only changes between 2020 and 2021 are the loss of Ingrid Colyer (through injury) who was replaced by Emma Cosh (assumed on average wage), Shannon Eagland was replaced by Sunday Aryang (most likely a kind for kind replacement) and Kaylia Stanton was let go and replaced by Sasha Glasgow. Due to length of time Stanton had been with Fever, and rising star Glasgow’s previous injuries it is hard to guestimate values but would be safe to assume very similar. I could be wrong?

This means that Fever still had this core group from that 2018 squad that was the first year of the salary cap breach of:

Jhaniele Fowler (GS) – Jamaican International (and arguably best shooter in the world)
Verity Charles (C, WA, WD) – Diamond
Jess Anstiss (C, WA, WD) – Diamond
Stacey Francis (WD, GD) – England Roses International
Courtney Bruce (GK, GD) – Diamond (suggested as one of the best Goal Keepers in the world)

When netball is a team of 7 on court having a core group of 5, at this calibre, being retained and building on connections since 2018 is massive and obviously is going to lead to success for them. So now we are in the final round of the 2021 season, to all intents and purposes, to use an old adage, Fever are reaping the benefits of their crime.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hold it against their players at all. They are ‘employees’. But the refrain from supporters is always "But you only care because they are winning"! Yes, that is correct, BUT they are only winning because of a team they have built and retained on, let's be frank, ill-gotten gains.

What I do find odd is how Fever fans do not seem to be angry at their club or club management? As a Melbourne Storm fan who went through the heart-ache of being stripped of 2 premierships and playing a season where they could accrue no points for their massive salary cap breach I find it astonishing. To this day heaps of Storm fans would spit on Brian Waldron the ex CEO of the club who was considered the mastermind behind their breach. There was much anger at the club bosses for allowing this to happen, and some fans at away games still yell abuse to this day.

 

 

I can only guess talking to some friends who support Fever that the only reason there is not the same anger against their club is due to the lack of publicity and the fact they have not suffered any significant punishment, therefore fans have not been tarnished with shame? As one friend said to me, “knew the team was good enough to overcome 3 games lost and still make finals and who really cares about the breach as they get good sponsorship so fine wouldn’t be hard for club to pay off so no harm them in long run”.

This is a terrible situation for Super Netball to be in. It also sets a terrible precedent. You can build and retain a top shelf team chockers full of representative players on the back of cheating the salary cap and reap the rewards of finals because the penalty for doing so is little hindrance?

I wonder if this would have happened had Netball Australia and Super Netball had the same sort of scrutiny from sports media the likes of the NRL & AFL have? Would they have gotten away with such little detail and information on the salary cap if there was a bigger core group of sports journalists reporting on the sport? The likes of The Guardian have reported on this issue with scrutiny to a degree but the main core group of those that report and commentate on the sport have been less critical or questioning and a lot of that is to do with their not only being less of them, but for some, having close connections to the game itself, therefore not really being in their best interests to chase down further details and demand more accountability from the powers that be that your regular sports fan would expect from a similar NRL or AFL breach of this nature. We don't even really have any Netball specific shows that tackle hard issues like they do in New Zealand with "Sky Sport Presents ... Inside Netball", though hopefully that changes with the FoxSports broadcast deal next year.

I am honestly torn.

Fever should not really have been in the position where they were eligible to play finals netball after cheating the cap for two years and already being in a Grand Final they should not have been in and as we can see from other elite competitions if similar penalties had been applied, they would not be.

Firebirds fans should be furious Fever has taken a finals spot away from them and instead they finish the season in 5th place.

Maybe Magpies too, as mindset is everything, and may have had a different result in their final game had they known they still had a chance of making finals instead of going on court knowing their season was over?

I love women’s sport, I love netball, I love that usually when it comes to integrity, good role models, clean sport, women’s competitions really stand out in their calibre. You just can’t say that when it comes to the handling of this West Coast Fever scandal. If Super Netball was a club, I would be thinking they have pretty much brought the game into disrepute with their handling of this West Coast Fever Salary Cap scandal and it really makes me unhappy to say that.

I can’t even say that the powers that be in Netball were maybe unaware of other sports standards, the then Chair of Super Netball at the time (and now Chair for the merged board), Marina Go, has referred to other sports and aspiring to learn from them a number of times in the media when it comes to introducing ‘rule changes inspired by NRL, Peter V’landys’ to the game and competition, and in the past was Chairwoman for the NRL team, Wests Tigers. Which from memory should mean she is familiar with salary cap breaches because of her time in the NRL. Others at Netball Australia and Super Netball would have to also have been aware of similar penalties for a breach of this egregious nature at other elite national competitions. I have no answers here as to why the penalty was so light and not really industry standard?

 

 

Netball fans might be happy to move on as they have been told. Sports fans? Your general sports fans we have attracted over the years? They will not. Neither will the netball fans that also support other sports besides just netball.

I wish it was not this way. I wish a real penalty with appropriate ramifications had been applied, that the punishment did actually fit the crime and was relative in comparison to other peak sports. Unfortunately it isn’t. Not even close.

I’m not sure how I will feel if I see West Coast Fever in the Grand Final in a few weeks time. Happy for the players, particularly the younger ones like Aryang and the ones who took a chance even though it cost them with their employment like Cosh, they have worked hard and in a terrible season that has been covid chaotic, they deserve success. But I can’t condone rewarding a team built and retained on the back of cheating. It just goes against everything that is fair in sport and as a sports fan in general it is a big black cloud I find it very difficult to see past.

Super Netball wants to compete for sponsorship with the big boys, be the pre-eminent women’s elite sporting competition in Australia, often will refer to themselves as the best netball competition in the world. If they want to be that, if they want to be equivalent to the NRL & AFL when it comes to media, sponsorship and pay – which is what we fans want as well - then should have the same scrutiny the likes of NRL & AFL have on them and have more integrity when it comes to scandals, not less.

Women’s sport is better than this, well I thought it was ☹

Thank you
Noely

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