The Relief of Uneven Coverage

Every so often, a familiar refrain comes over the airwaves: female sportspeople want and deserve more media coverage.

This week, there are 12 Australian netballers who are oh so glad that such a wish has never been granted.

The Commonwealth Games Netball Final was one of the most spectacular, exciting and enthralling sporting events of 2010 thus far. It was arguably the best match of what has been one of the sporting world’s closest and most fascinating rivalries over the past 20 years. New Zealand won 66 to 64 after 14 minutes of overtime, and 8 minutes of sudden-death double-overtime when the first team to lead by 2 goals wins the game.

Had this been a Grand Final in a men’s football code, every player would have been rated out of 10 in the next morning’s paper, and every single missed opportunity would still be being re-lived in follow-up articles, on talkback radio, and on endless sports television programs. As it was, the bi-annual match-up of Australia and New Zealand in the sport which more Aussies play than any other was only deemed worthy of two articles in The Age and one in the Herald Sun – about 6 pages from the back – the morning after.

And for the first time in their lives, the Australian players would have been happy with such relatively miniscule coverage.

Catherine Cox sure as hell would have been. She doesn’t need to read about how she made almost every shot after coming on during the fourth quarter until she missed when she had a chance to put Australia two goals ahead in double overtime. She’ll lose enough sleep as it is during the next year until the World Championships without the scrapbook of other people’s recriminations that AFL or NRL grand final losers could piece together.

Coach Norma Plummer is similarly glad that every armchair-coach hasn’t spent the past week reading endless commentaries about her tactics too. Sure, she made the right substitutions, bringing on Cox and Green for Medhurst and Nourse respectively, but in hindsight she clearly should have made the change at three-quarter-time, when the Silver Ferns had the momentum and had just taken a 2 goal lead, rather than a few minutes into the final quarter when their lead had stretched from 2 to 7.

The umpires are pleased that they were “only” umpiring netball too. With Australia 1 goal ahead and seconds remaining in regulation, the Diamonds had a centre pass. An umpire incorrectly called Sharelle McMahon for breaking, giving the ball to New Zealand who scored just as full time was called. Had this been a football code or cricket, the fury across Australia would have removed all other stories from the front page, the masses would be calling for blood, and commentators with nothing better to do would be harrassing the International Federation of Netball Associations (IFNA) to suggest the introduction of a video umpire.

All of the Australian players will be ruing their turnovers, missed shots and penalties for at least the next year, with some losing sleep over them for much longer than that. As such, it’s almost a relief not to have to wonder how they are coping with re-living the match a-hundred-times-over through the immediate media coverage many men’s sports receive.

Netball actually receives more coverage in the Australian media now than ever before, mostly thanks to its greater presence on free-to-air television through the ANZ Championship, a tournament on our doorstep that involves most of the top players from around the world.

However, as one of the few men who has enough of an interest in netball to attend games, it’s always felt like a great shame that people in the netball crowd don’t have the conversations that lend many sports a certain level of legitimacy. When Mrs EPO and I were arguing about the make-up of the Australian team while watching them in their Commonwealth Games warm-up series against Jamaica in Melbourne, our conversation felt extremely conspicuous in its content and tone.

But this week, the relief one felt for Cox, McMahon and their Diamonds teammates as they didn’t have to read numerous articles about mistakes they already knew they’d made said as much about what we read and write about the bigger, mainstream sports as it did about what we don’t read about women’s sport. Indeed, it creates an interesting perspective on what more mainstream athletes – those who know they must wake up the morning after only to read or hear the endless reviews of their failures – must go through.

It’s like the way that the great English defender Geva Mentor – the MVP of last year’s Grand Final – has left the Adelaide Thunderbirds this off-season to head to Melbourne. She’ll team up with Julie Corletto in the Vixens’ defensive circle in what will surely be regarded as the best pairing in the competition come season 2011. If netball was football, the media would have been overflowing with the news, and Melbourne veteran, Co Captain and defender Bianca Chatfield’s netball obituary would have been written many times over as it seems that she’s now fallen from Australian team-member to Vixens reserve in the space of the last two years – at age 28, perhaps destined never to return.

But she doesn’t need to read about that, does she?

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