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Women hustle for equality in sport

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Melinda Andriejunas playing defence for Sutherland in NBL1 competition. Photo: Supplied
Melinda Andriejunas playing defence for Sutherland in NBL1 competition. Photo: Supplied

They say if you want something done right, then do it yourself. It’s no secret that for many years women have struggled to gain equal opportunities and recognition in the world of sport. Now sportswomen themselves are making a change.

Former women’s national basketball league player Melinda Andriejunas teaches PDHPE at Aquinas College, Menai, and says she owes her involvement and participation to strong female role models.

“I always had such great coaches, especially when I came into my senior teams. But still as a junior player I had strong female mentors who always showed girls they could do anything,” she said.

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The Perth Lynx alumnus has spent the majority of her life representing NSW at national basketball tournaments, and trained with elite coaches at the NSW Institute of Sport and the WNBL Flames academy.

To say Ms Andriejunas is a local legend to the Aquinas students would be an understatement, yet she did not escape the adversity many women face in the realm of sports.

“As a professional athlete for years, I saw most players in the Perth Lynx had to sustain their living with paid employment, along with their payments from Perth Lynx,” she said.

“I still was teaching a few days a week and having full time professional training commitments.”

Female athletes often receive significantly less pay and fewer endorsement deals compared to their male counterparts, for the same effort.

Ms Andriejunas’ colleague at Aquinas College, Michael Turton, also has a top pedigree in the basketball community as a national coach.

“I remember in the past, the boys were the haves, and the girls the have nots,” he
said.

“Look at the wages for the women’s IPL Cricket at the moment. The highest paid woman was half a million, which is brilliant.”

Mr Turton began his coaching career with Sutherland Basketball Association back in 1993, worked with Australian junior girls teams, the WNBL Sydney Flames, and NSW State teams.

Professional basketball wasn’t always a career option for women, he recalls, but female athletes are doing an “awesome job of advocating for equality.”

“Look at the wages for the women’s IPL Cricket at the moment. The highest paid woman was half a million, which is brilliant. It’s still not equivalent to the men but at least it’s there and it’s growing,” he said.

When we think of women in the sporting world it is important to consider all roles, not only players, he added.

“When I first started coaching, the depth of female coaches just wasn’t out there. Now it’s great.

“I’m working with the U16 NSW country girls basketball and for the first time in a long time it’s an all female staff.” Ms Andriejunas agrees, saying female athletes have come a long way, and that recent government announcements reflect a growing sense of gender equality.

“Look at the womens AFL, rugby and basketball purpose- built training facility, a $20m facility that the NSW premier just announced, which is a first for professional male and female athletes to share,” she said.

Both teachers say that it’s difficult to keep school-aged girls interested in sport.

Mr Turton suggests this could be due to coaches treating them as though they are more fragile than the boys.

Often coaches “don’t go as hard” on the players or “hold them accountable,” as they would with a male team.

“The biggest thing I LOOK AT IS HAVING A GOOD RELATIONSHIP AND RAPPORT WITH THE KIDS.”

He suggests that coaches strive to create a holistic bond with players and provide balance
in their life.

“The biggest thing I look at is having a good relationship and rapport with the kids,” he
said.

“Taking an interest is huge and part of the reason I do it is so I don’t lose the kids to other sports.

“You don’t want to make them pick between sports, you want to invest in their cross-sport ideas.”

Mr Turton and Ms Andriejunas say that Aquinas is on the front foot when it comes to connecting their girls with physical education.

The school encourages staff and senior female students to run gym sessions and fitness
programs.

Mr Turton switched from the independent schools sector to Sydney Catholic Schools (SCS) and said he is impressed with the effort SCS makes on equality in sport.

“Looking at what SCS are doing, trying to equate the sports between girls and boys but also boosting all round participation, I think it’s improving all the time and I think it’s going to help our Aquinas girls and all girls to no end,” he said.

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