Second-class Olympians fume over team gender bias
The Opals are one of Australia's most successful Olympic teams. Photo: Gary Sissons
Australian women Olympians have weighed into an escalating row over the second-class treatment of elite female athletes compared to their male counterparts.
Women athletes in London are up in arms after Japan's world-beating women's soccer team - a strong gold-medal chance - revealed it had flown premium economy to London while the lower-ranked men's team enjoyed business class.
But Australia's women basketballers have confirmed they also had different travel arrangements to the men's squad for the journey to London. While the Boomers flew in business class, the Opals made the long-haul trip in premium economy - and that was an upgrade.
The Opals have never protested publicly about this longstanding treatment of national teams and players would not comment on the record today, but they do not like it and say such inequality has been a long-standing source of contention.
The Opals have won silver medals at the last three Olympics, bronze in 1996, and are hell-bent on gold in London. The Boomers, by comparison, have never won a Olympics medal, although they have come close three times, finishing fourth in 1988, 1992 and 2000.
A Basketball Australia spokeswoman said the women's and men's teams each had a budget, which they helped decide how to spend.
But with many of the organisation's officials in London, she was unable to say this morning whether the Boomers had been allocated a larger budget than the Opals.
"The leadership group of each team is consulted on how that budget is spend - including travel arrangements," she said.
She also highlighted the difference in heights between the teams.
"First and foremost, we're always conscious of the welfare of our players," she said.
"Different factors are taken into account when organising travel arrangements for our national teams - height and size being a primary consideration.
"For example, the average height of our male basketball players is 200.2cm. The average height of our female basketball players is 183cm."
But Basketball Australia was unable to confirm if flight arrangements had ever been based on individuals' heights given Opals rising star Liz Cambage is 203 cm tall, while Boomers players Adam Gisbon and Patrick Mills stand 188 cm and 183cm respectively.
After the Japanese women's soccer team arrived in Paris from Tokyo for a friendly match against France en route to the Olympics, captain Homare Sawa, the 2011 FIFA Women's World Player of the Year, highlighted the contrasting status of her national teams. The men's under-23 team, which is not expected to win a medal in London, sat in business class on the same flight.
While Japan's female soccer players are, in the majority, only semi-professional, Sawa told reporters they should at least be treated as equal to the men for the Olympic Games.
Japan's male soccer team last won an Olympic medal - the bronze - in 1968, but have reportedly been flown business class by the national football association since the Atlanta Games in 1996. The women's team was only upgraded by Japan's soccer federation for its return trip after winning the World Cup in Germany last year.
The male and female members of Australia's sprint cycling team all travelled to Europe from Australia in economy class, while professional road cyclists are often upgraded by their teams.
Fairfax has sought comment from the Australian Olympic Committee.
- with Mex Cooper