The very vocal ultimatum given to Ellyse Perry by her W-League club, Canberra United, will stir-up the lefties’ free-will fibres. Still, it’s a necessary decision for the respectability of Women’s sport.
Ellyse Perry has been a popular media phenom since she made the Australian sides for both soccer and cricket five years ago. She is an elite athlete of unquestionable skill. However it could be argued that, had her talents only got her to the top in one sport, her time in the media may have been more limited. Not because she would have any less ability in that sport, only that the wow-factor of female athletes requires disproportionate magnification for mainstream media to pay much attention. (Much theory on this, here is a good starting point). As such, Perry is an important advocate for female sports.
Canberra United’s decision can’t have been a big surprise to the 21-year-old mid-fielder/bowler. Part of the attractiveness of her story was the question of how long she could continue to play both sports. After going through the last season undefeated, winning the title, and saying it was done at a “cruise”, United Coach Jitka Klimkova said she would continue to focus on improving the club in 2012/13. What’s left to improve when you’re the first W-League team to make it through the season with a clean sheet? The answer, according to the spokespeople at Canberra United, is professionalism. As an infrequent training attendee, Perry compromises that.
The ultimatum is a bold stance taken by a team who are in a position to be bold. A lesser club perhaps couldn’t have, and certainly Cricket Australia won’t allow NSW to banish their poster girl.
CA position on soccer club ultimatum to Ellyse Perry: We support her ambition to play both cricket & soccer for as long as she wants. (Cricket Australia GM, Peter Young, via Twitter)
In the long run, it’s a move likely to payout wide-spread dividends. If women’s sport is to improve its status to somewhere close to men’s in the media, professionally-focused decisions like this are a must.
The Sydney Morning Herald et al reported on Wednesday that Perry had all but left Canberra in search for another W-League club and she confirmed her desire to continue pursuing both sports. (Sydney FC was at the top of the list).
In the same report, Canberra United CEO Heather Reid said Perry’s popularity wasn’t enough to earn her special privileges. While I agree with United’s move in the name of professionalism, Reid is wrong on this count. The cost of Perry’s withdrawal from even one sport would be massive because Perry is more popular playing both sports than she is playing one.
In the past two years Australian newspapers have mentioned Ellyse Perry on 625 occasions. Leah Poulton, a prolific scorer for the Australian cricket team, and slightly more capped player, appeared over the same period, in the same newspapers, 219 times. Using the same criteria for Clare Polkinghorne, captain of Brisbane Roar and fellow Matilda, my search returned just 99 results.
Perry and her dual international status draw exceedingly valuable publicity to both sports; publicity the FFA and Cricket Australia are well advised to harness. While Canberra United deserve praise for their chutzpah, the FFA had better make sure another club picks her up, lest women’s sport lose another column in the rags.