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Australian women’s basketballers irate over taking cheaper flight to London 2012 than men’s squad

Neate Sager
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Australian basketballer Liz Campage is too tall to fly economy to London (Getty Images)

At 6-foot-8, Australian women's basketball star Liz Campage has some long legs — and so does the story about two medal-contending women's teams that were booked into economy for the lengthy trek to London 2012 while their nation's men's team flew business class.

It seemed like it might only be a one- or two-day story, but Australia's federal sports minister, Kate Lundy is now wondering why there's a difference. It's a similar story with Japanese soccer: their reigning World Cup champion women's team flew economy; the men were in business class. In the case of Campage, the towering post for the Opals, who have medalled in four consecutive Olympics, she had to pay for her upgrade for the privilege of representing the Land Down Under in in London.

As far as Lundy is concerned, this cannot stand. It flies in the fact of the whole transformative-power-of-sport deal the Olympics espouses for fun and profit.

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 203 centimetres is a future international star. By contrast, Boomers star Patrick Mills is 183 centimetres. 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 [Australian Olympic Committee] 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 Age)

Perhaps this is a #FirstWorldProblem, but a point's a point. It is 2012 and sportswomen should not have to put up with getting the shorter end of the stick. It goes without saying that male professional athletes make more money and always will and the public lives vicariously through the triumph of male sports heroes than women. There is still a principle here; equity should always be the goal.

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Liz Campage (right) with former Australian freestyle skier Lydia Lassala (Getty Images)

Everyone is making the same commitment to her or his country, yet the less successful male team gets a greater entitlement. At the risk of generalizing, it's also worth pointing out that athletes in Olympic team sports often have to make do with a little less than those in individual sports. The latter are more visibile and can attract sponsors to off-set travel upgrades, but those in team sports don't have the luxury. Plus their nation might not give ample support to a group of people who compete for only one medal; that might be the between-the-lines explanation for Canadian women ballers eating oatmeal three times a day at some tournaments.

It's a similar story with Japanese soccer. The women's team won the 2011 World Cup and is ranked No. 3 in the world while the men are ranked No. 20 (not great, but still good and much better than Canada). Yet the men's team can take first-class travel for granted while the women apparently only gets it if they win.

The Japan Football Association said the men flew business class because they are professionals.

The association upgraded the women's team from standard to premium economy in recognition of their status as gold medal contenders.

After winning the World Cup last year, Japan's women's team was upgraded to business class on its return flight from Germany. The JFA said Thursday that similar arrangements could be made if the team wins gold in London. (The Associated Press)

That just seems strange, especially from the perspective of a Canadian, since women often account for most of this country's medals.

Time was, women athletes accepted just being allowed to compete. That's no reason to sit idly by and accept having fewer perks. Times change and sports is supposed to reward excellence.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at neatesager@yahoo.ca and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

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