News broke yesterday by Fairfax newspapers indicated that there was a discrepancy between the London Olympic travel arrangements of Australian male and female athletes, including basketball representatives the Boomers and Opals. According to Samantha Lane of The Age:

Australia’s women basketballers have confirmed they also had different travel arrangements to the men’s squad for the journey to London. While the Boomers flew in business class, the Opals made the long-haul trip in premium economy – and that was an upgrade.

The Opals have never protested publicly about this longstanding treatment of national teams and players would not comment on the record today, but they do not like it and say such inequality has been a long-standing source of contention.

The Opals have won silver medals at the last three Olympics, bronze in 1996, and are hell-bent on gold in London. The Boomers, by comparison, have never won a Olympics medal, although they have come close three times, finishing fourth in 1988 and 2000 and sixth in 1992.

A Basketball Australia spokeswoman said the women’s and men’s teams each had a budget, which they helped decide how to spend.

When asked for comment, a Basketball Australia spokeswoman said that many factors were taken into account when booking travel, including height and size.

“For example, the average height of our male basketball players is 200.2cm. The average height of our female basketball players is 183cm.”

But Basketball Australia was unable to confirm if flight arrangements had ever been based on individuals’ heights given Opals rising star Liz Cambage is 203 cm tall, while Boomers players Adam Gisbon and Patrick Mills stand 188 cm and 183cm respectively.

Lane goes on to add in a subsequent article:

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.

Of course, I’d venture that most people would agree with me that our Olympic athletes should all be flying in the best comfort possible in order to pull off the best performances that they can in London. After all, there will be a whole nation of people watching them perform, expecting success. With all of the money spent on sport development in Australia, flight arrangements on 24 hour flights are pretty important and relatively low in cost — particularly when you’re talking about over-sized, above-average height athletes like our basketball stars. 

That said, the Opals themselves have not openly complained of the premium economy treatment themselves. It still doesn’t make it the right decision. Do people make mistakes sometimes? Of course they do.

According to a statement from Basketball Australia Acting CEO Scott Derwin this morning, BA needs to review the process.

“Travel arrangements fall under a longstanding policy put in place some time ago. It sits at an operational level, and the development of the policy is not something the board would have contributed to.

“The policy around budgets for each national team gives the leadership group of those teams some discretion over how their funds are spent – and that includes travel arrangements.

“We should bear in mind that in fact, historically, more funding has been directed towards the Opals.

“But the simple fact is when a policy results in gender inequality, it’s very clearly not the right policy going forward.

“I am putting in place a review of our Olympic travel policy with the goal of ensuring there is equity between travel arrangements for the men’s and women’s teams attending future Olympics.

“Part of this review will include consultations with the Opals, the Boomers, and the Australian Olympic Committee.”

Incoming Chief Executive Officer Kristina Keneally will start in the role on the 4th of August. Ms Keneally welcomed Mr Derwin’s decision to hold a review.

“In this day and age, there’s just no excuse for men’s and women’s sporting teams to be treated differently when they both compete at the same world class level,” Ms Keneally said.

“In fact, in this circumstance, the disparity is even more glaring when you consider that our women’s basketball team is one of the best in the world – enjoying the number 2 spot in international rankings.”

Ms Keneally said the review would be completed within three months.