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Australian Opals leave door open for Abby Bishop as players call for equality

Abby Bishop with her niece Zala.

Abby Bishop with her niece Zala. Photo: Katherine Griffiths

Australian Opals coach Brendan Joyce says he "absolutely understands" Abby Bishop's decision to quit her world championship dreams to focus on family and insists the door is still ajar for her to play in the tournament.

Bishop's decision to withdraw from the world championships has sparked debate, triple Olympian Suzy Batkovic saying female basketballers face a constant battle for equity and NBA superstar Andrew Bogut imploring Basketball Australia to review its new parental policy.

Bishop quit the Opals' world championship campaign and lead-up tours and camps after revealing she would have to pay for flights, accommodation and a nanny for Zala, the seven-month-old baby girl in her care.

BA has introduced a parental policy which says athletes are responsible for funding childcare in a high-performance environment.

Batkovic, who has also withdrawn from the world championships to rest her body, backed Bishop and said "it would be nice if we didn't have to fight" for equality.

The gender equality debate erupted in basketball on the eve of the 2012 London Olympic Games when it was revealed the Opals flew to London in premium economy while the men's national team travelled in business class.

The Opals were happy for Zala to travel with the team and Bishop was eligible for Direct Athlete Support funding, but she would have to pay for the costs associated with hiring a nanny.

"I know after speaking to Abby that it was a hard decision ... it would have been nice if Basketball Australia could find a happy medium, it's a unique situation," Batkovic said

"I've been with the Australian team for a very long time and there always has been a fight about something.

"It's a bit of equality. Yeah we're women, but we've brought in so many medals, we do so well that a little bit of fairness wouldn't hurt. There's always a constant battle, but it would be nice for it to change.

"It's not like we've got 12 players who are single parents, we're looking at one athlete and I think there could have been a compromise."

The Opals have won three Olympic silver medals and two bronze medals since 1996 and were world champions in 2006.

BA officials say Bishop would have been eligible for increased Direct Athlete Support funding - an $11.4 million Australian Sports Commission project to ease the financial burden on players - on top of her player earnings, which could have been used to pay for a nanny.

The Direct Athlete Support funding - which ranges from $6000 to $25,000 - can be used to offer financial support to athletes who miss out on a regular income due to camps and international tours.

Bishop's decision wasn't just driven by financing a nanny. It's understood Bishop was also aggrieved at the handling of her sensitive issue after sending a letter to BA three weeks ago to inform them of her decision.

Joyce spoke to Bishop on Tuesday night to try to get her to reconsider.

"We do support our athletes. I've got four kids, so I respect her decision," Joyce said.

"Absolutely she will be part in the future. You don't take things personally, this is a special circumstance.

"We'll support Abby in anyway we can. The door is open, we'll welcome her back with open arms and I absolutely understand her decision."

Bishop volunteered for personal reasons to take custody of Zala from her sister when she was just two days old.

She is effectively a 25-year-old single mother.

Bogut tweeted Bishop's situation to his 62,000 Twitter followers: "This is a rare, one off issue that needs to be further looked @ by BA and highly considered."

BA consulted with netball, water polo and hockey before forming its new parental policy, which is pending approval from the board.

The policy applies to the Opals, the men's national team and the wheelchair Rollers and Gliders players.

BA high-performance manager Chuck Harmison said: "We are allowing her to bring the child to the training camps and the games. A number of teams wouldn't allow that.

"She can bring the child with her, if she funds the caregiver ... the Opals is the elite team. Caregivers come at a significant cost, and the athletes are provided with a salary and they also get Direct Athlete Support from the Australian government.

"Abby would have received that if she had made herself available for the Opals."

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