Sport’s Big Brass Mug goes to … Netball Australia’s plain-speaking CEO – Sydney Morning Herald

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This was published 5 months ago
The forum of Australian sports chiefs at Melbourne’s Future Direction conference – billed the “Davos of Sport” – turned into an episode of the ABC television show Hard Quiz.
Contestants were the AFL’s Gill McLachlan, NRL’s Andrew Abdo, Cricket Australia’s Nick Hockley, Rugby Australia’s Andy Marinos, Netball Australia’s Kelly Ryan, Football Australia’s James Johnson and the National Basketball League’s Jeremy Loeliger.
Netball Australia stand by their 95-years of promoting women’s sport.Credit:Getty
The quiz master was the ABC’s Catherine Murphy who, while more gently probing than Hard Quiz’s mischievously acerbic Tom Gleeson, did ask the taxing questions.
And, just as in Hard Quiz, the CEOs tried to steal points from each other.
Murphy, a rugby union fan, reminded Marinos of his code’s “empty seats” and asked what he was doing about rule changes to make the sport more attractive.
Rather than toe the ball forward, he deflected the question into touch, pointing out that he can’t, like Abdo, “implement a rule change overnight” being beholden to the suits in Dublin, the headquarters of his global game.
It was a common boast of the international sports, drawing a comparison with the insular AFL and NRL, who paradoxically are the biggest revenue earning sports in the nation.
But McLachlan sought to steal a point by reminding rugby league of its multiple rule changes over the past three years, saying, “You can do too much of it.”
To which Abdo quickly counter-attacked in reference to the AFL’s defensive orientation, with, “Or you can do too little of it.”
Murphy pointed to headlines of netball’s indebtedness and increasing recent competition from other female sports, such as AFLW.
An understandably haughty Ryan replied, “We’ve been doing this for 95 years. Everyone wants a piece of this [women’s sport] all of sudden.”
She quickly turned defensive, resurrecting the standard response that the answer is to grow the total sports pie, rather than to try to steal a bigger slice.
However, while traditional male sports are chasing government and sponsorship female dollars, she said her sport is into “gender equality”, seeking to grow the male participant base and be accepted into the Olympic temple in 2032.
Some of the claims made about sports surprised.
Basketball’s Loeliger, while reinforcing the common theme of his sport being “globally relevant”, said of the NBL, “We are the second biggest league in the world, after the NBA.”
NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo.Credit:Getty
Rather than be concerned fans will watch the superior American version ahead of the Australian game, he is confident of “the halo effect of Australian superheroes being in the world spotlight.”
Football’s Johnson: “We are the biggest club participant in the country.”
Cricket’s Hockley: “The international aspect of our game is massive. Davey Warner has 30 million Twitter followers.”
Marinos: “We see a golden decade for rugby in Australia.”
Abdo: “Ninety per cent of the data generated in rugby league has been over the last two years.” (Well, if you believe, like most at Rugby League Central, that the code began with the establishment of the NRL in December 1997, rather than with Dally Messenger in 1908, that’s probably true.)
McLachlan began and ended his point taking with the AFL’s great gift: making money. He admitted the once unthinkable had happened through Covid-19: “We have had to contemplate the fact that revenues can go down.” The AFL is now operating on income levels 90% of the past and he admitted a fear the 10-to-16-year-olds who have spent two years in front of computer screens won’t “get out of the house and play”.
Everyone wants a piece of this [women’s sport] all of sudden
Hockley, while mentioning he was off to international HQ Dubai that evening, admitted a concern about “the workload on players.”
Johnson conceded the uncompetitiveness of both the Socceroos and the A-League, saying, “The senior men’s game is a challenge.”
Abdo didn’t highlight any specific concerns, despite speaking on the very day the Guyra Super Spuds announced the club will close on the eve of their 100th season, having failed to field a team. Instead, Abdo referenced the nimble way the NRL navigated Covid-19, with “the Accounts Payable officer becoming the Bio-Security officer of a club.”
With only two women and six men on stage, Ryan admitted she was grateful “to be up here on stage to break up the blue suits.” She also deserves Gleeson’s Big Brass Mug awarded the Hard Quiz winner, given she was more plain-speaking than the men.
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