Federal sports minister Kate Lundy has hit out at the discrimination that resulted in Australia's women Olympic basketballers flying to London in economy class, while the men travelled in business class.
After The Herald revealed the Opals flew premium economy to London, Senator Lundy and Sex Discrimination Commissioner Liz Broderick called for the inequity to be rectified.
Further investigation reveals the Opals are not alone in being treated as second-class citizens. National women's soccer and cricket teams are flown economy, while their male counterparts' teams travel in business. This is despite the fact that, in basketball and soccer, the women's teams have much higher international rankings.
Other Olympic teams such as men and women's hockey and the track cyclists travelled in the same airline class to London. Swimming Australia has a policy to say that all athletes fly economy, although individuals can upgrade if they arrange it privately.
In London, Australian chef de mission Nick Green declined to criticise Basketball Australia - which has recently installed former New South Wales premier Kristina Keneally as chairwoman - saying only that the Australian Olympic Committee provided return economy airfares for all team members with Qantas, an official sponsor.
"We're comfortable for the sports to look after their athletes .. We give them the travel subsidy to travel with Qantas, our partner, and the sports themselves determine how they use that," Green said.
The Age has been told that the men's basketball team has a written agreement with Basketball Australia that members will be flown business class for any flight over three hours. It is understood the women have no such arrangement. Opals captain Lauren Jackson travelled first class to London, but only because she is a Qantas "ambassador".
A Basketball Australia spokeswoman said the women's and men's teams have separate budgets that the respective leadership teams were consulted about.
However The Age has been told that frustrated current members of the women's Opals team have been lobbying for better treatment for some time.
The Basketball Australia spokeswoman said that the height of the teams was also taken into consideration: the average height of the men was just over 200centimetres; for the women it was 183centimetres.
But the Australian team includes Victorian Liz Cambage, who at 203centimetres is a future international star. By contrast, Boomers star Patrick Mills is 183centimetres. He travelled business class, as did Cambage after she upgraded her premium economy ticket out of her own pocket.
Senator Lundy said that travel arrangements were a matter for the AOC and the individual sporting organisations, "however my view is that team travel should be equitable for our male and female athletes".
"Our Australian basketball teams, the Opals and the Boomers, both play the same game, they're both tall and they are both equally committed to representing Australia at the Games. They shouldn't have to travel a different class because they're both world class."
The Opals have won silver medals at the last three Olympics, and won bronze in 1996. The Boomers have never won an Olympics medal.
Former Opals captain Robyn Maher said Australian female basketballers had repeatedly asked Basketball Australia to justify the inequity, but had received no satisfactory answers. "Over the years it's been a multitude of [reasons given] - the men get better funding, so they've been able to do it; the men are bigger so they need more space," she said.
"It's been a bit of a sore spot, especially since the women are much more successful. I'm yet to find a nice answer for it other than they're male and we're female. You'd hate that that's the reason, but I'm sure it is."
Sex Discrimination Commissioner Broderick weighed in saying: "I've had people tweeting me back ‘it's about size'. Well, no, it's not, because Lauren Jackson is over 195, I know Liz Cambage is over 200centimetres, so these are Australia's finest athletes, both male and female, but treated very differently.
"I was saddened to see it to be honest. We have moved a long way in terms of the equality of men and women, [but] when something like this happens, it seems to put everything back."
Football Federation Australia said the reason it discriminated was not to do with gender bias. "The Socceroos tend to be scattered all over the world and need to be flown into various locations on short time turnrounds," a spokesman said.
"They fly business in that situation because it is a matter of recovery time and giving them every opportunity to be in the best condition."
The Matildas, some of whom play overseas but with many who are home based, are often gathered together in camp in Australia before important fixtures and usually then fly out in advance for games in time to get over any tiredness before they take the field.
Cricket Australia's rationale was that the men's teams spend more than 200 days of each year on the road and generate a high percentage of the revenue that is then plunged back into the game to develop women's cricket.
with Michael Lynch and Chloe Saltau
From: Sydney Morning Herald