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Tough call gives pause for thought

Date

Chris Wilson

Ellyse Perry of Australia in action against New Zealand at the Sydney Cricket Ground in January.

Ellyse Perry of Australia in action against New Zealand at the Sydney Cricket Ground in January. Photo: Getty Images

Is Ellyse Perry a poster girl for women's team sport in Australia or is she symbolic of what's holding it back?

There's been enough vitriolic attacks over this issue already this week, so at least hear me out before filling my inbox with hate mail.

The purpose of this article is neither meant to be a criticism of Perry nor of Capital Football, but to view this week as a fascinating case study of where women's team sport sits in Australia at the moment.

This is a story that genuinely has two sides.

To rewind, in case you missed it, it was reported that W-League champions Canberra United had given Perry, a dual international in soccer and cricket, an ultimatum to choose between the two sports.

Capital Football chief executive Heather Reid has since clarified the situation, stating that Canberra United was not demanding Perry choose between soccer and cricket at all.

Reid said Capital Football was simply demanding that if Perry wanted to continue playing for Canberra United, she needed to commit 100 per cent to the club's training and playing requirements next season.

It's a fair request of any athlete at any sporting club.

But Reid has since been unfairly targeted by vicious verbal and written attacks, with some of the language more befitting of a bar-room brawl.

At the outset, an important distinction needs to be made here: Canberra United is not a professional sporting club, it's a sporting club measuring itself by professional standards.

It's why Capital Football searched Europe to recruit coach Jitka Klimkova last season. The results speak for themselves, Canberra United winning the title undefeated.

Klimkova plans to step up those professional standards again next season. United will train four days a week and Capital Football has secured the team access to training fields at the AIS, providing a semi-permanent home.

As a background to this, keep in mind that Canberra United's total salary cap last season was approximately $50,000 - a benchmark in the W-League. The players are signed to agreements, which expire at the end of every season. Strictly speaking, they are not professional contracts.

United's highest paid player was on $6000, their lowest paid rookies got $500. Perry, as an Australian representative, was somewhere in between, although she was also given travel and accommodation allowances to enable her to split time between Canberra and Sydney.

This is what makes Perry's decision to continue playing both sports understandable.

There's no doubt Perry is an outstanding allround athlete. Now 21, she was only 16 when she first represented Australia at cricket and soccer.

But being multi-skilled is what makes her so marketable. It's what makes her unique.

When it comes down to it, you could probably fetch more at auction for a Michael Clarke autographed bat than Perry got for representing Australia in cricket last summer.

Perry earns more from promotional work, endorsements and media appearances than she does from actually playing sport. And what stands her apart is that she is a dual international.

Take a male athlete in a similar situation. Karmichael Hunt has shown that he has the talent to be a success in rugby league and AFL. As a professional male footballer he's forced to make a decision, but he can do so with a multi-million dollar contract waiting no matter which code he sides with.

Perry has no such luxury.

We are now starting to see a move towards professional equality and earnings in individual women's sports such as tennis and golf.

Internationally, women's team sports such as basketball and soccer can be lucrative. But in Australia, women's team sport remains an amateur pursuit with professional aspirations.

Canberra United is following an example set by Women's National Basketball League team the Canberra Capitals.

Capitals coach Carrie Graf has long spoken of her desire to build the Capitals into Australia's first truly professional women's sporting team. They will take another step forward when superstar Lauren Jackson, a true professional in every sense of the word, returns to the club this summer. But there's still a long way to go.

Capital Football, as a state administration looking after all facets of the sport, should be applauded for its dedication to growing the women's game.

Perry, no matter how talented, does not fit that strategic plan. She played in just six of Canberra's 12 games last season and was unavailable for the finals series because of schedule clashes with the Australian women's cricket team. Canberra United has asked nothing more of Perry than what it is asking of every other player in the team.

That Perry is able to continue representing Australia in soccer and cricket provides a fantastic role model for every little girl playing sport. But at the same time, it is an example of the shortcomings in Australian women's team sport.

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