Retired former Australian netball captain Sharelle McMahon with her son Xavier. Netball Australia is more supportive of mums who want to bring their children on tour. Photo: Wayne Taylor
Netball Australia boss Kate Palmer has implored female sporting bodies to soak up some of the costs of having children in a high-performance environment until women can be full-time professional athletes.
In response to Basketball Australia's new parental policy, which has forced Canberra's Abby Bishop to quit the Australian Opals, Palmer revealed netball officials pay for players to take their children on international and domestic tours.
Netball Australia pays for flights and accommodation for a carer and child, but not day-to-day responsibilities for looking after a child.
Happy family: Abby Bishop with her niece Zala. Photo: Katherine Griffiths
Bishop withdrew from the Opals world championship campaign after being told she would have to fund flights, accommodation and the cost of a nanny while on tour.
Palmer said there needed to be commonsense applied to female sport, and policies needed to be flexible.
"It is quite rare for this circumstance because female athletes ... in our sport, would wait until they retire to have children and that's a result of not being fully professional," Palmer said.
Netball has called on female sports to give mum's support. Former Australian netball captain Sharelle McMahon with her baby Xavier. Photo: Wayne Taylor
"I don't think it's that difficult to manage. I think it's a responsibility of sport [to assist athletes with children] until they are full paid, fully professional. Until then, it should be an expectation that sports help.
"I understand completely Basketball Australia's decision. We have a finite budget, but when it comes to taking care of a child ... from our perspective as a fully female sport, if I have to find money out of some other budget, I'll find it. It's too important [to the players]."
Bishop volunteered to take custody of seven-month-old Zala from her sister for personal reasons, effectively making her an overnight 25-year-old single mother.
More accommodating: Abby Bishop says the Canberra Capitals have helped her manage her parenting duties. Photo: Katherine Griffiths
Zala has been in Bishop's care since she was just two-days old. The unique situation prompted BA to form a policy about children being with the team, declaring it needed to "keep the sanctity of high performance".
BA is applying the policy to its four national teams but Bishop's world championship dreams are over.
Netball Australia formed its policy in 2012 after consulting with its players. Netball New Zealand has a similar policy, while it has also emerged the US women's basketball team pays for players to take their children on tour.
Australia's top female basketballers earn significantly less than their US counterparts.
Australia's top netballers rejected the notion of protecting a high-performance environment, with Palmer revealing they "felt very normal" with a child as a member of the group.
Netball Australia's policy means if players have children, they would be allowed to tour to the Commonwealth Games and world championships and stay in the same accommodation.
"We don't want our young athletes to drop out of the sport [because they become mothers]. For goodness sake, women do get pregnant," Palmer said.
"You'd hope the flexibility would allow [Bishop] to handle that. The reality is, if you're an amateur athlete, you have to make choices about what you do.
"I think it's very sad for women, it's something that needs to change in Australia if we're going to grow and provide more opportunities for women in sport.
"It's an issue we need to deal with properly. [Bishop's situation] hopefully starts a conversation and speeds up the process of developing some really common policies. There are a lot of big issues with women's participation in sport."
BA was happy for Zala to tour with the Opals, but Bishop would be responsible for funding childcare.
Bishop would have been eligible for Direct Athlete Support funding, which ranges from $6000 to $25,000. But the 25-year-old was also frustrated at the handling of her delicate situation.
BA consulted with netball, water polo and hockey. When BA spoke to senior Opals about the new policy, the players raised the prospect of paying for childcare for Bishop.