The state netball championships held in Brisbane last week attracted attention and controversy for all the wrong reasons. This was because the grand final was won by the Queensland Suns U17s team, an all boys’ team, who decimated the Bond University Bull Sharks girls’ team 46-12.
Netball Queensland made the decision to allow the boys’ team to play in the all girls competition because it wants to encourage more boys to take up the sport, especially in the lead up to the 2032 Brisbane Olympics.
There were news reports of verbal abuse directed at the boys’ team during the final, predominantly from spectators on the day. The Suns’ statement following the game said they had participated in the competition “to highlight the possibilities for boys in the sport”.
“Queensland Suns acknowledges the perceptions of disadvantage or unfairness for the girls regional teams, however the purpose of the opportunity afforded to us was not to overshadow them, but to provide some much-needed exposure on a significant stage,” it said.
“We acknowledge this has caused controversy, but it in no way justifies the abuse, intimidation experienced by our players and officials.
“No athlete, in any sport, should be subjected to this behaviour for any reason.”
Netball Queensland has defended its position, releasing a statement to address the controversy:
“We want to make clear that there is a place for everyone in our sport.
“We stand by the decision to choose inclusion over exclusion. And, to invite the Queensland Suns to return to the State Titles given they have limited opportunities to play in a high performance environment due to low participation numbers and limited pathways.”
The girls team posted the following statement on their Facebook page following their defeat:
“Congratulations on an outstanding tournament to our 18U Women. Undefeated by other women’s teams for the week and runners up in the State Titles.”
By choosing ‘inclusion’ over exclusion, Queensland netball has chosen to put boys’ desire to play competitive netball over and above the needs of female athletes to play in a competition that is designed specifically for them.
It’s actions directly undermine the very reason that we have a separate category for women's sport, which exists to give women an opportunity for meaningful competition on a level playing field.
It fails to acknowledge the biological differences between men and women and the physical and strength disparity that gives men a distinct advantage when it comes to sport. The reality is that women have less muscle than men, and men “have larger hearts, greater blood volume, more red blood cells, greater lung capacity and on average are taller and larger than women.”
Former Diamonds Coach Lisa Alexander who coached the Australian netball team from 2011 to 2020 has said that whilst she understands why Netball Queensland made the decision to allow the boys to play, she considers it was ‘asking for trouble’:
She remarked that the “physical differences between teenage boys and girls was too great for it to be a level playing field”.
“I don’t think boys and girls of that age group should be competing against each other because there are physical differences and capacities that men have over the top of women.”
Katherine Deves, Save Women’s Sport Australasia’s co-founder has commented:
“When we watch women’s sport, we want to see the best women and girls that the world has to offer. We don’t want to see men and boys taking up space on the netball court or on the podium.”
And, as Tasmania Senator Claire Chandler has remarked regarding the related issue of trans women being allowed to play in women’s sporting categories:
“It’s a strange leap of logic to suggest that inclusivity requires people to be able to play in categories specifically not intended for them.”
Netball Queensland has since stated that they are hoping their decision to allow the boys to play “will be a catalyst for a stand alone men’s competition in 2022”.
There must be a more suitable path forward if Netball Queensland genuinely wants to encourage a greater uptake of boys playing netball in Australia. It should not be done at the expense of women and girls, and the opportunities that women’s sport provides them to excel and succeed.