the newspaper challenge: day one – Netball for all


The Age (June 20, 2012)

“Plea on male netballer: ‘Please stick up for me and all girls who play in girls’ competitions”. 

Well, it’s day one of my “newspaper challenge” and The Age has proved successful in alluring my attention to an article I could easily relate to.

Through my early teens and into young adulthood, I cherished the sport of netball by being a passionate player and umpire. For seven years I hit the court with determination and dedication toward the sport, and valued it for its basis of being a girls-only activity.

Granted, boys were allowed to take part in the local competition up until the Under 13’s sector, and when the more competitive side of my netball age came into light, the male player had vanished as the rules stated.

Carolyn Webb’s article on the discriminative exclusion of male players that are over 13 years of age in netball, highlights the main problem with gender allocation in Australian sport.

Women are excluded from AFL and the major rugby leagues for a reason; they simply do not hold the strength and ability that males do to provide the same competitive entertainment. Even as a feminist myself, I wouldn’t be thoroughly excited by a game of good old football with a bunch of women running around. We weren’t built that way.

St Therese Netball Club plea for males to be excluded from the local competition.

Netball, however, is a non-contact sport that provides the right type of competitiveness for females, whilst taking into consideration the limits and  boundaries of female strength and durability. I would happily take to a netball court and get involved in a heated match (and perhaps fly a few swear words at my opposition), but I would definitely not consider myself able to take to the footy field or that alike.

Webb’s article explains the concerns of parents and coaches of St Therese Netball Club in local Melbourne, after a 13 year-old boy of 185cm was allowed to take part in the competition despite hitting the required age to move into an older and more advanced section.

As a result, the girls of St Therese have expressed their repression of playing the game properly, when faced against the boy. They have become sensitive and self-conscious of their bodies and movements with a male in presence and lack the confidence to defend against him.

One girl stated that she feared going up against the boy because that meant she was to “rub her body up against his”.

Yes, netball is a non-contact sport, but close body movement is necessary, and with boys of this age running around the court against vulnerable girls (who have just found their position in puberty) is a risky act. The girls state they are being discriminated against. The boy also states he is being discriminated against.

Fair enough, if a male wants to play netball, I’m all for it. Give me a buzz, I’ll come play against you, but in an all-girls competition, like the local Netball Victoria games, it is just that: all girl. Mixed teams are available for males to play in, but to allow Netball Victoria to permeate male inclusion into the local competition, would harm it.

Gender should be treated equally in sport, but it isn’t, and that is because male and female hold different abilities and boundaries in their physicality. Mixed teams are created so that those who feel comfortable to take the court with the opposite sex, can do so. Girls who have just entered puberty, and are not highly comfortable with the male presence, shouldn’t be forced to play against them in a specific competition that is suppose to be female only.

There’s a time and a place for equality, but I don’t see female players winning the Brownlow Medal.