This article is part of our March theme, Sport and Human Rights. It’s also part of a series of articles looking specifically at the role of women in sport.
Natalie Medhurst is the Goal Attack for the Australian Diamonds and Queensland Firebirds. Natalie has won numerous world championships and Commonwealth Games medals with the Diamonds and is going to be a key player in next years Commonwealth Games campaign. Right Now met with Natalie to find out what it takes to be a semi-professional netballer.
Right Now: What inspired you to take up a career in netball?
Natalie Medhurst: To be honest I don’t think I ever thought that netball would be a career or that I would be doing this now. Obviously when you start out it’s for the fun and the enjoyment. I grew up in country South Australia. I was not exposed to sport at that top level. When I moved to Adelaide I realised that if I put my head down I could play at a high level. I guess it is a career in some ways, even though it’s not a full time career, which I would love. I work and I’m studying so I’m trying to balance a lot of things. I think the biggest thing is being able to play and represent your country. To be playing with and against the best players in the world is a privilege.
…it is a career in some ways, even though it’s not a full time career, which I would love.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Where do I begin? 2011 was a huge year. I won a premiership with the Queensland Firebirds in the ANZ Championship and then straight after that won the World Championship with the Australian Diamonds in Singapore where we beat New Zealand, in extra time. It was absolutely amazing. The year before at the Commonwealth Games we lost the gold medal match in double extra time. It was a career highlight to be able to go away to a country like India and be part of the Commonwealth Games. As netballers we don’t get to be part of the Olympics, so to be with all those other athletes in a very different environment, to say the least, was extremely memorable for every right and every wrong reason. It was an experience that I will never ever forget.
Which female sportspeople do you look up to?
At the moment I certainly admire Sharelle McMahon who I have been fortunate enough to play with. I grew up watching her and was absolutely amazed by her skill and athleticism. She is an Australian netballer who has had a child and has come back and is playing elite level netball. I think that is very inspiring for women. She is such a great role model. I think we certainly need role models that show that female athletes are able to try and juggle both motherhood and sport. I’m sure it’s very hard for her but it is amazing what she has been able to do.
I think we certainly need role models that show that female athletes are able to try and juggle both motherhood and sport.
2011 was big year for Sharelle McMahon. At the time she was the Australian captain, it was a World Championship year but she snapped her Achilles tendon early on during the ANZ Championship season and so she actually had to miss out on going to the World Championships and captaining her country. She missed out on that and then last season she was pregnant. So she’s had two years away from the game which would be tough. Six months ago she had a baby and now she’s back playing with the Melbourne Vixens. I don’t know what she wants to do with Australian stuff, but its pretty incredible. Over in New Zealand, the girls have kids and are back and they travel, but over here it hasn’t really been done.
Why is that?
I don’t know if it is where our minds are, or if it’s just so competitive, or if there aren’t the support networks in place. Netball Australia is starting to get the necessary support in place.
Women make up just nine per cent of all sports coverage in Australian TV news and current affairs. Why do you think women’s sport doesn’t enjoy broader coverage?
I think generally sport is considered a male dominated market, in particular that blokes are the ones that watch sport.
In relation to netball it has also been suggested that the game is too short – tennis, AFL, cricket all have longer time frames that mean you can make a day of it which attracts more sponsors and TV rights. Netball is done and dusted in an hour.
When netball was being shown on Channel Ten, men started watching and realised that it is a fast, physical and skillful game and that women were capable of putting on a good show.
Some people also have the perception that women’s sport isn’t entertaining and that the quality is not as good. When netball was being shown on Channel Ten, men started watching and realised that it is a fast, physical and skillful game and that women were capable of putting on a good show. The Australian netball team is Australia’s most successful sporting team having won ten of the past 13 World Championships. Every game against New Zealand is a blockbuster. People’s perceptions are starting to change.
What do you see in the future of women’s spot and in particular netball?
Women’s sport is growing, and producing a greater number of role models. Looking at households, women’s involvement in sport plays such a big part. Women are involved in sports of all kinds through different measures whether it be actually participating, supporting husbands and kids, social committees, umpiring and coaching, running social clubs and working at the canteen. I think people forget how heavily women are actually involved in sports – at all different levels. Women are getting out there and being involved every weekend.
Netball is the number one women’s sport (when counting participation) in the country. Moving forward we have two massive years coming up with the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the 2015 World Championships in Australia. In 2015 we are going have people coming from all across the world to Sydney to play netball to watch and participate in the World Championship, making for a huge spectacle and allowing netball to really promote itself and increase its exposure in Australia. This should lift the profile, status and coverage of netball and it’s about time.
As players it is the goal of the Australian Netball Player’s Association that by 2015 all players will be full time players rather than semi professionals juggling netball with work and study.