Australian News

Programs encouraging more women, of all abilities, to play wheelchair sports

When wheelchair basketballer Jess Cronje played her first game for a national mixed team, one of her opponents warned if she got in his way again and stopped him from scoring, he was going to squash her like a bug.

Instead of taking her off the court, her coach decided to give the then 16-year-old the job of guarding the much bigger man.

“She said something to him, then scooted off somewhere and the look on his face, that whole quarter he was just out of sorts, he was really off his game,” recalled Cronje’s mum, Kris Riley.

After asking her daughter what she had told him, Cronje replied “I just went up to him and went ‘buzz buzz’.”

The 22-year-old, who’s part of the Australian Gliders national squad, admits she was daunted when she first had to line up against grown men.

Now she thrives on it.

“When you compete against them, it makes you feel really good and like ‘yes, I can do this’.”

But not all young girls, or even women, have that same confidence to stand up to smack talk, and back it up.

Why do so many girls drop out of sport?

A woman in a wheelchair on a basketball court smiles .
Many women worry about being judged on how they look while playing sport and agonise over whether they’re good enough.(ABC Sport: Amanda Shalala)

It’s estimated nearly 50 per cent of girls stop playing sport by the time they’re 17, and women have lower rates of participation in sport and physical activity than men.

Many worry about being judged on how they look while playing or exercising.

Some wonder whether they’re good enough, and others, particularly mothers, don’t want to be questioned over their priorities (aka mum guilt).

It can be even harder for those who want to participate in wheelchair sports, because they’re largely unisex at the junior and recreational/sub-elite levels.

And playing with and against boys and men brings a whole other set of issues.

“The men have this idea that they can only pass the ball to themselves, to the other men in the team,” said wheelchair basketballer Patricia Luff.

A woman in a wheelchair holds an Aussie Rules football.
Patricia Luff started playing wheelchair sports to keep up with her sons and now she plays wheelchair basketball and Aussie rules.(ABC Sport: Amanda Shalala)

Luff started playing 15 years ago for the sake of her kids.

The 54-year-old and her two sons are all wheelchair users, and she wanted them to experience being part of a team.

But being involved in sport has been just as beneficial for her.

And now that she plays for the Sydney Uni Flames in the Women’s National Wheelchair Basketball League, she knows the difference female-only teams can make.

“You get to have a chance at doing everything, with the women.

“They force you and tell you to dribble the ball down the court, even though you say ‘I don’t want to’. But they get you to and you realise you can do it.”

Tracey Carruthers was a keen netballer when she was young, but at 17 her knees deteriorated significantly, and she decided to try wheelchair basketball.

A woman in a wheelchair smiles for the camera.
Tracey Carruthers decided to try wheelchair basketball after her knees deteriorated.(ABC Sport: Amanda Shalala)

While she’s a self-admitted extrovert, she believes many girls and women are lost to wheelchair sport because they have to play in unisex teams.

“Men’s basketball is very different and I’m still a little bit intimidated playing against the men. They’re taller, they’re bigger, they push harder, they get up on one wheel, something I’m hopeless at doing,” the 42-year-old said.

“Some of the girls can absolutely match it, but not me and not at the level that I’m at.

What can be done to encourage more women to play?

Wheelchair Sports NSW/ACT has started running a series of “HER SPORTS” events, to give women and girls a chance to try different sports in a welcoming environment.

A group of women sit in wheelchairs and hold Aussie rules footballs.
A series of events is underway to give women and girls a chance to try different sports.(ABC Sport: Amanda Shalala)

“There are too many girls and women out there in New South Wales and the ACT who are missing out on the opportunity that sport provides.

“And it’s not just the physical aspect, it’s about belonging somewhere, it’s about the mental health benefits and the social benefits of participating.”

Wheelchair Aussie rules is a new offering for the organisation, and unlike most para-sports, there aren’t classification requirements.

That means anyone, of any ability can join in.

“What we know from girls is often they’ll want to bring other people along with them when they try something new,” Garnett added.

“So if you have the opportunity to bring your able-bodied girlfriends or mum or sisters or whomever, then that’s a reason why we think that girls will be particularly attracted to wheelchair Aussie rules.”

Why wheelchair Aussie rules is more accessible to women of all abilities

The sport’s rise in popularity has taken on extra significance for Carruthers, who’s a mad GWS Giants fan.

Even though she needs a double knee replacement, and has a genetic condition which prevents her from participating in able-bodied sport, recent changes to wheelchair basketball classification rules means she’s no longer eligible for international competitions.

Wheelchair Aussie rules is played on a basketball court, and a handball is actually a kick, while a throw is a handball.

A woman handballs a football from a wheelchair while on a basketball court.
Jess Cronje has made a name for herself in wheelchair basketball, but has recently started to play wheelchair Aussie rules too.(ABC Sport: Amanda Shalala)

There are goals and behinds and a mark is the same.

Carruthers believes the nature of the sport means it’s accessible to more women than wheelchair basketball — where the hoop is kept at the same height as the able-bodied game.

“Basketball is a little bit discriminatory when you first start, it’s really hard to hit that ring when you start off. So given that you can score anywhere from the ground to the roof means that you’ve got a lot more capacity.”

While Cronje wants to represent Australia at next year’s 2021 Tokyo Paralympics in basketball, she’s also proven to be just as good with a Sherrin in hand.

And she hopes it will open doors for many more women to get active.

“In basketball, I’m not exceptionally tall like most people are. So I think in AFL it doesn’t matter about your size or what you can and can’t do, because there’s always something for you.”

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Coronavirus has robbed golf’s Masters championship of crowds, and one of sport’s great soundtracks

For all the purple prose uttered by the heavily vetted TV commentators at the Masters championship, the small screen has never quite done Augusta National golf course justice.

Watching on TV, you can still get a feel for the challenging design. Most famously there is the risk-and-reward of the twin par-five 13th and 15th holes, where the decision to hit the second or — less often now — third shot over Rae’s Creek has made or broken many a final-day charge.

You can drown in the vivid colours. Augusta National’s green fairways are rolled up each winter like carpet and laid again, which ensures they are perfectly manicured and — when it rains — that the smell of manure overpowers that of the clam chowder on the outdoor tables.

But watching on TV, the dimension that is missing is the topography of a course that drops away steeply from the clubhouse down the 10th fairway and is much more undulating than you expect when you have only seen it through the camera lens.

Not only do Augusta National’s troughs make holes more difficult than they might seem on a map, they create small hidden theatres among the dogwood trees from which the roars of the crowd rise and fall like the sound of big waves crashing on an unseen shore.

Actually, don’t ever call those holding a golden ticket to Augusta National part of a “crowd”.

The officially mandated word for Masters spectators is “patrons”, something CBS commentator Jack Whitaker famously forgot in 1966 when he called a large group of fans scurrying toward the green a “mob” and was subsequently banned from calling the tournament for several years by the club’s green-jacketed poobahs.

But whatever you call them, there will be no spectators at Augusta National when the Masters begins on Thursday. COVID-19 has taken much from sport this year, and the latest victim is one of sport’s great soundtracks.

As those who have been to Augusta National will understand, you don’t just watch the Masters by walking the course or by positioning yourself at one of many spectacular vantage points. You sense it all around you.

From inside a sports venue, there are three crowd noises I can still feel when I think of the moment that created them.

Tiger Woods punches the air in triumph after winning the Masters.
Woods’s win last year was his fifth Masters triumph, and first since 2005.(AP: David J Phillip)

There is the roar that followed Cathy Freeman around the track at the Sydney Olympics; the explosion when Usain Bolt virtually jogged across the line in Beijing to win the 100 metres in 9.69 seconds, and the cheer that rumbled through Augusta when Tiger Woods sunk the curling chip shot at the 16th to clinch his 2005 Masters victory.

What made Woods’s chip unique is that it was an entirely aural experience. I was standing under the big tree in front of the clubhouse interviewing players who had completed their rounds when the noise rolled up the hill like a tsunami.

This was just the most remarkable of so many Augusta eruptions. And the reason why a Masters without crowds will seem more unusual than any of the other tournaments played this year with backdrops more like a local club four-ball.

Masters timing may play a factor

Of course, the other significant difference is the postponement from spring, with the azaleas blooming, to autumn — fall, if you like — with the shadows lengthening and perhaps a chill in the air.

Had the Masters been played in its traditional timeslot, the headline would have been the return of Woods to the scene of his incredible drought-breaking 15th major victory in 2019.

Instead there is the kind of trepidation you might expect when Godzilla approaches the city limits as we wonder whether the hulking Bryson DeChambeau will overwhelm Augusta National with his unparalleled combination of gym-built muscle and space-age equipment.

Bryson DeChambeau smiles and looks to the camera holding the US Open trophy
There are both supporters and critics of Bryson DeChambeau’s power game.(AP: John Minchillo)

Since winning the US Open in September, DeChambeau has boasted of carrying a drive 400 yards (365 metres) for the first time.

This raises either hopes or fears that the American will turn storied Augusta National into his personal pitch and putt, depending on whether you are part of the Happy Gilmore crowd who marvel at his feats of strength, or a traditionalist lamenting the defencelessness of great courses against souped-up modern clubs and balls.

While DeChambeau’s feats have prompted yet more calls for limits to be imposed on ball technology particularly, nature could provide Augusta’s greatest defence this year.

“The few times I’ve played (Augusta) in November, it’s been the same — it’s been cold and the ball doesn’t go far,” said Woods in a pre-tournament media conference.

“If you are able to get the north wind that time of year, it can be awfully difficult and long and very different than what we normally play in April.”

The initial forecast, however, is for humid and wet weather, meaning greens that are traditionally about as giving as marble floors could be slower — something that might suit Adam Scott, who with Jason Day, Mark Leishman, Cameron Smith and amateur Lukas Michel is one of five Australians in the field.

Scott triumphed on Augusta’s slick surfaces in 2013. But that lone major victory remains a testament to his incredible ball striking, and came despite struggles with the putter that would have tortured those with less sanguine temperaments than the admirable Scott.

Whoever wins, they will do so in the kind of contemplative silence in which golf is played but rarely — at one of its greatest venues — celebrated.

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Mansfield Shire Council proposing to name new sports stadium after hometown hero Alex ‘Chumpy’ Pullin

Mansfield Shire Council has proposed to name a new sports stadium being built at the Mansfield Secondary College after two-time world champion snowboarder Alex ‘Chumpy’ Pullin, who died earlier this year.

Pullin was born and raised in Mansfield and Mansfield Shire Council CEO Kaylene Conrick said he was also a student at the Secondary College where the new stadium is being built.

“Chumpy was well-known and well loved in Mansfield,” Councillor Kaylene Conrick said.

“He was a local but also he was an extraordinary athlete, two time snowboard world champion, he competed in three Olympic games, he was recognised was a very young age,” she said.

The three-time Olympian and world champion snowboarder died at Palm Beach on the Gold Coast in an incident at an artificial reef where he was spearfishing in July this year.

Artist impression of a sports building with courts next to it.
An artist’s impression of the new sports stadium.(Supplied: Mansfield Shire Council)

Construction of the $7 million sporting complex consisting of a new dual court stadium and dual outdoor multi-purpose courts at the Mansfield Secondary College began earlier this year.

Cr Conrick said the council had almost decided on a name for the complex when the news came through of Pullin’s death.

“At the time council considered how appropriate it would be to perhaps name the facility after Chumpy,” she said.

“We approached the family and obviously a very sensitive matter, and our heartfelt sympathy goes out to the Pullin family, and they agreed for council to propose the name to the community and honour Alex.”

‘Much loved, well liked and is missed’

The decision is now up to the community, with two online polls open to gauge the support of naming the facility the ‘Alex Pullin Stadium’.

Cr Conrick said council hoped to get the support of the community for the naming of the stadium in his honour.

It’s not the first time the community has recognised the former local, he was given a key to the town at a ceremony 2011.

One man is presenting a framed key to another man on a stage with a podium in front of them.
In 2011, Pullin was presented with a ceremonial key to the Mansfield Shire from then Mayor Cr Tom Ingpen.(ABC News: Matt Dowling)

Local cafe and hotel owner Dean Belle knew Pullin when he was growing up in Mansfield.

“He was just so focused,” Mr Belle said.

Mr Belle said the townspeople had a special spot in their hearts for him.

The consultation on naming the facility will close in early December with a decision to be made by council next month.

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Local News - Victoria

Sports vouchers for vulnerable school kids as Victoria records another ‘doughnut’ day


“It will go towards, again, the purchase of equipment, running sport and physical activity programs,” he said. “This is a really significant announcement, encouraging community sport, encouraging kids to return to the sport that they love.”

Mr Merlino said the eligibility criteria and details would be announced in coming months.

Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said he was confident that indoor sport would start by the end of the year, but cautioned that indoor spaces provided a much higher risk of transmission.

“It will progressively go from outdoors to indoors, from non-contact to full contact. Across the board for age groups from children to adults,” he said. “I am confident that will happen this year and we are on the path to this.”

Professor Sutton also urged Victorians to call out hospitality staff if they saw them failing to adhere to infection control measures.

“People should vote with their feet,” he said. “If they are going to a hospitality setting and they are not comfortable with the distancing measures or the check in, the QR code… and all those details…

“If you see a waiter or waitress without a mask, demand it. People should go to places where they feel comfortable and safe. I would say to all those businesses, ‘do the right thing’.”

Victoria recorded zero new cases and zero deaths on Sunday, making it the second ‘doughnut’ day in a row, and the fourth in a week.


The metropolitan rolling average is sitting at 2.2, while the regional Victorian average is at zero.

Masks to remain the accessory of choice

Professor Sutton said while face masks would remain a part of the Victorian look for some time to come, the state would eventually transition from universal mask-wearing to just wearing masks in high-risk settings once authorities were confident community transmission was low enough.

“Clearly if there is no transmission at all, masks are not a requirement,” Professor Sutton said.


“What we shouldn’t be complacent about is thinking that if we have a few days without cases that there is never a requirement for masks. Country Victoria went for weeks without a single case, but I am sure all the people of Shepperton were very happy they were wearing masks when there were three active cases in the community recently.”

He said face masks were critical in protecting Victorians from undetected transmission.

“Clearly we should be transitioning, and we will be transitioning from universal mask wearing to maybe indoors, to maybe just high-risk settings at the appropriate time.”

“But again, masks are a small impost for the individual, for us collectively, to get us to freedom we are all looking for and beginning to enjoy.”


Professor Sutton said the irony of yesterday’s protests against the COVID restrictions were that they were opposing the measures that had driven the state’s cases’s down.

“It’s madness to give up some of these small imposts when they are the exact things getting us these zero days and getting us to the summer that we want and the summer we should have,” he said.

‘Victoria needs to be vigilant’

In echoes of his esteemed leader, Premier Daniel Andrews, Mr Merlino said while Sunday was “another great day for Victoria”, countries across the world were enduring soaring infections.


“COVID is not over, the global pandemic is not over,” Mr Merlino said. “Victoria needs to be as vigilant as they have been this week and moving more forward.”

Professor Sutton said France was recording 50,000 cases a day, while Belgium had been forced to send patients outside of the country because the healthcare system was too overwhelmed.

“What Europe is going through now is a consequence of not being able to get to this point where you can stay on top of very low numbers,” Professor Sutton said. “What we have created is very precious and we need to hold onto it tightly.”

Professor Sutton stressed that Victorians should feel confident about heading out into the community and doing activities they enjoy.

“We deserve to enjoy ourselves now,” he said. “We got to this incredible point where case numbers are very low and we have days of literally no true cases so we should go out, with all the precautions we talked about, but we need to enjoy our lives after three months of really constrained activity. We know how to protect ourselves. It is doing the right thing, wearing a mask, keeping a distance, making sure that if there are people unwell around us, we are not interacting with them.”

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WNBL confirms ABC’s return as a broadcaster for 2020 season along with Fox Sports and Kayo

The ABC is back as one of the broadcasters of the WNBL, with two games a week being shown on the main channel and streamed on iview.

The league’s new broadcast deal means that all 56 regular season games, plus the four-game finals series will be shown live across Australia.

Earlier this month, Basketball Australia confirmed that the 2020 WNBL season would be played out of a North Queensland hub.

All eight teams will relocate for the new season, with games to be played in Cairns, Mackay and Townsville.

Starting on November 11, each team will play 14 games before a four-game final series, with the grand final scheduled for December 20.


The season will be broadcast on a number of channels and platforms.

The ABC — which last broadcast the WNBL on television in 2014 — will simulcast games at 5:00pm AEDT on Saturday and 3:00pm (AEDT) on Sunday on iview and ABC TV.

Fox Sports will show four games a week live on Foxtel and Kayo, with Kayo also streaming the remaining games live.

BA chief executive Jerril Rechter thanked ABC and Foxtel for their support of the league and said the agreement was significant for women’s basketball in Australia.

“Having all 60 games of the 2020 season shown live across Australia will provide a platform to showcase one of the world’s leading basketball leagues featuring Australia’s best established and emerging athletes.

“This high-profile visibility across Australia will help build upon the popularity and growth of women’s basketball and inspire a whole new generation,” Rechter said.

The director of ABC Regional and Local Judith Whelan welcomed the new deal.

“We’re thrilled to welcome back the WNBL to the ABC — the natural home of women’s sport in Australia,” Whelan said.

“We are also delighted that one of this country’s most experienced and passionate basketball commentators, the ABC’s Corbin Middlemas, will be part of this season’s on-air WNBL commentary team.

“The ABC is looking forward to bringing Australian fans two games per week of one of the best women’s basketball competitions in the world.”

BA’s head of women in basketball Lauren Jackson said the deal would allow more Australians to follow the country’s top basketball talent in a pivotal time for the sport.

“The 2020 WNBL season will double as important preparation for the Australian Opals ahead of the Tokyo Olympics and the 2022 FIBA Basketball World Cup which will be hosted by Sydney,” Jackson said.

“With all the opportunities that this season presents us, being able to broadcast all our games live across the nation was at the top of the list.”

The ABC’s first game for broadcast will be the Melbourne Boomers against the Southside Flyers at 5:00pm AEDT on November 14.

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Cristiano Ronaldo, Dustin Johnson the latest top sports stars to test positive for coronavirus

Two of the world’s highest-profile sportsmen, Cristiano Ronaldo and Dustin Johnson, have tested positive to coronavirus.

Portugal’s Football Federation confirmed in a statement on its website that the superstar of the world game, Ronaldo, had tested positive for COVID-19.

The 35-year-old Juventus striker is “well, has no symptoms and is in isolation”, the Federation said.

Ronaldo was dropped from Portugal’s Nations League match against Sweden on Wednesday as a result.

The Federation said the rest of the Portugal squad had undergone tests as a result of Ronaldo’s positive result, but that they had all tested negative and would be available for the Sweden match.

Two other Portugal players — Jose Fonte and Anthony Lopes — had tested positive for COVID-19 recently.

Portugal coach Fernando Santos said last week that positive results among players were “happening everywhere in the world.”

“We are the most tested people and we have the guarantee that everyone who will be traveling to France with us are negative,” Santos said.

Less than 24 hours ago, Ronaldo shared an image on his Twitter and Instagram accounts showing himself and his teammates enjoying a meal together.


Along with the tweet, Ronaldo wrote, in Portuguese: “United on and off the field!”

It was not immediately clear when the photograph was taken, which showed none of the players wearing masks.

Five-time world player of the year Ronaldo appeared in his side’s 0-0 draw away to France in the Nations League on Sunday and last Wednesday’s 0-0 draw in a friendly at home to Spain.

He will now be doubtful for Juventus’s Serie A trip to Crotone on Saturday and their Champions League group stage opening game away to Dynamo Kiev next Tuesday.

And depending on his condition and the results of future tests, he could also miss the much-anticipated Champions League match against Barcelona on October 28.

Juventus had been in quarantine

While Portugal’s national team has not been beset by coronavirus cases, Italian club football in the last year has been hit hard.

In the last fortnight alone Genoa were unable to fulfill the requirement to have 13 players including a goalkeeper available to take on Napoli after 20 Genoa players and staff tested positive.

Napoli then failed to show for a match against Juventus after being told not to travel by their local health authority due to two positive COVID tests.

The previous Serie A season was put on hiatus for months and Ronaldo’s Juventus side has seen a number of players test positive in the past.

The whole squad was again put into isolation on October 4 when two club staff members tested positive to COVID-19.

As a result there has been some controversy that Ronaldo and six other players were allowed to leave the isolated group and join their national teams.

Johnson out of PGA tour event after positive test

A golfer stares down the fair way after completing his tee shot at a PGA Tour event.
Dustin Johnson began experiencing symptoms ahead of this week’s PGA Tour event in Las Vegas.(AP: Charles Krupa, file photo)

Men’s world number one golfer, Johnson, was forced to withdraw from this week’s PGA Tour event at the Shadow Creek club in Las Vegas.

The PGA Tour put out a statement confirming Johnson would not be in the field when play begins on Thursday.

“Experiencing symptoms, Johnson notified PGA Tour officials and was administered a test, with the positive result forcing his withdrawal from the event,” the statement read.

“Johnson, who last competed at the US Open, will have the PGA Tour’s full support throughout his self-isolation period under CDC guidelines.”

Johnson, the 2020 PGA Tour player of the year, missed out on his second major when he was joint-second behind winner Collin Morikawa at this year’s PGA Championship in August.

“Obviously, I am very disappointed,” Johnson was quoted in the statement.

“I was really looking forward to competing this week, but will do everything I can to return as quickly as possible.

“I have already had a few calls with the Tour’s medical team and appreciate all the support and guidance they have given me.”

Ronaldo and Johnson are just the latest sports stars to return positive COVID-19 tests.

Recently, a number of NFL players in the United States tested positive, including star New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton.

And the tennis world was rocked earlier this year when a number of men’s players, including world number one Novak Djokovic, tested positive.

Djokovic, who has in the past expressed anti-vaccination views, hosted an exhibition tournament where coronavirus spread, and was later spotted partying along with other players including Grigor Dimitrov, who also tested positive for the virus.


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Former NRL and union legend Mat Rogers on role sports stars play in mental illness prevention

Depression. Anxiety. Suicide.

Once taboo to speak about, mental health issues are now part of our everyday vernacular, but with eight Australians taking their life every day, we are far from locking in solid solutions to this complex national crisis.

We do know, however, that talking helps, so when sporting heroes – who on-field are the image of strength, determination and in male-dominated sports, virility – publicly address the dark thoughts plaguing their minds, it helps to collectively normalise the conversation.

Sporting superstar Mat Rogers has lived a great life of achievement – among the long list, he played at the top level in NRL and rugby union, has a high-profile media presence, competed on Network Ten’s Survivor and is authoring his autobiography.

But the 44-year-old Queensland Origin legend has not been immune to the effects of mental illness. In fact, he has been quoted saying he feared depression might be a family curse.

After losing his mum, Carol, to breast cancer in 2001, Rogers’ dad, Steve – an NRL legend in his own right and known as one of the greatest Cronulla Sharks players of all time – took his life in 2006.

He was just 51 years old.

Rogers had already experienced the loss of his uncle to the same fate.

For Rogers, being part of a growing group of sports stars – including the likes of NRL’s Greg Inglis and Darius Boyd and AFL’s Buddy Franklin – who are normalising mental health conversations is an important role to assume.

“I didn’t even really know what mental health was back then [in 2006], no one really talked about it and no one really understood it,” Rogers tells SMART Daily.

“Now it’s talked about so much more and understood a lot better. It’s hoped you can pick up the signs and notice something.

“It’s like when you ask someone the question and they’re not OK, they don’t even know where to start. It’s been a lightning rod for their life, that opportunity to speak to someone who is prepared to try and understand them.”

Rogers says we must get better at talking about suicide in a way it does not become the defining factor of someone’s entire life.

“For me, a lot of people they’re nervous to talk to me about my dad because of what he went and done and I hate that,” Rogers says.

“That was not my dad and not my dad’s legacy, that was a moment in time where he succumbed to the darkness of what he was feeling. I honestly think it’s held back him being recognised as the great player he was.”

While Rogers says his sporting career was a “dream run”, he understands the pressures placed on young players.

“Life’s hard. Just life itself is hard,” he says.

“I’m now in sports management and work with a lot of young kids and understand they have to deal with uncertainty and not feeling wanted. It’s a pretty big need for all of us, feeling wanted.

“You throw in celebrity on top of everyone wanting a piece of you, the looking after your family, there’s a lot of stress that goes into a player’s life.

“To have guys like Buddy Franklin and Greg Inglis to be so open about their mental battles, I reckon that is just enormous, I was so stoked to see that. It shows other players it’s OK and that they’re not crazy.

“It’s also important we’re all vigilant as individuals for the people around us. I’ve been in some pretty dark places and the last thing I’ve wanted to do was bring other people into them but I have been fortunate in having a great brother, wife and friends who have been able to recognise that and step in.”

Brain and Mind Centre at the University of Sydney co director Professor Ian Hickie – who became the inaugural Beyond Blue CEO in 2001 – says the change in attitudes to mental health, especially in the NRL has been nothing but positive.

“Working with sport is particularly important if you want to get the public talking and focusing on a particular issue,” Prof Hickie says. He says in the early 2000s Beyond Blue approached some NRL clubs to create mental health awareness, with little success.

“They didn’t really recognise the nature of the problem,” he says.

“It reflected a time and place where the level of community awareness was nothing like what it is now nor was the focus on young people.

“One of the problems is you see these incredibly fit and successful young people and make a wrong assumption that they’re fit in the head.

“I think the superhuman bit has changed. I don’t think sport is any less tough or rough than it ever was, players are still physically incredibly fit and fast but alongside that physical fitness and performance on the field, there’s a lot more attention to getting their head straight.

“We as a society have a long way to go but the fact we are on that journey now is very important.”

Lifeline: 13 11 14 or

Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636 or

Headspace: 1800 650 890 or

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Queensland Sports Minister Mick de Brenni denies pork barrelling claims amid intervention in sports grants program

Queensland’s Sports Minister Mick de Brenni has defended his intervention in a sports grant program and denied accusations of pork barrelling.

An auditor-general’s report of the grants program for women’s changing rooms found the minister intervened and overruled his department’s recommendations on 33 occasions.

Mr de Brenni said there were errors in some of the original recommendations and it was his responsibility to fix them.

Speaking to ABC Radio Brisbane, Mr de Brenni said he did not recommend one club because it was incorrectly listed as not having women’s teams when it in fact did.

He said another club was initially rejected because they had already received funding from another scheme for their sports field.

He said there was nothing in the scheme that said clubs could not receive both sets of funding.

“When I identified that error it was my responsibility to make sure that they weren’t ruled out because that was just simply wrong,” Mr de Brenni said.

“It was my authority and my responsibility to ensure that the outcomes were aligned to the policy intent and the program guidelines and that’s what I did in those cases.”

The minister said more eligible clubs across the state were able to access funding as a result of these interventions.

“Most of the time the department gets it right,” he said.

“But in that small number of cases that they don’t, it’s my responsibility to make sure that those errors are corrected.”

A woman in a hardhat talking to reporters
Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington has demanded Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk explain why the grants were approved.(ABC News)

Speaking on Tuesday, Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington said the report was “shocking” and showed “blatant pork barrelling by the Labor Government.”

“The Premier needs to immediately explain why 33 grants were approved by her sports minister against the expert advice of her department,” Ms Frecklington said.

The report also found the changes to recommended grants meant the proportion of grants awarded in Labor-held electorates had increased from 44 per cent to 68 per cent.

Meanwhile, the report found the number of grants awarded to LNP-held electorates decreased from 43 per cent to 28 per cent.

Mr de Brenni denied some electorates were favoured over others and said the changes were made to only 1 per cent of all grants recommended for approval.

He said he did not see a problem with it as changes were made in 12 Labor-held electorates and 14 in other electorates.

“The ones that weren’t successful, most of those have since been funded through other programs and we continue to work with other clubs that haven’t yet been funded.”

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Fox Sports deal emails could harm Federal Government minister’s relationship with PM, FOI reveals

If emails between the offices of the Prime Minister and Communications Minister became public it could harm their working relationship “now and into the future”, a legal notice has stated.

Partially refusing a Freedom of Information (FOI) request about a controversial $10 million taxpayer-funded grant to Fox Sports, Communications Minister Paul Fletcher’s chief of staff Ryan Bloxsom said the disclosure “could reasonably be expected to have a detrimental effect on the working relationship between the minister’s office and the Prime Minister’s office, now and into the future”.

Additionally, the letter outlining that specific decision found the public interest was to “withhold the exempt material” rather than release it.

The ABC sought internal emails about a July 22 media release spruiking the $10 million Federal Government grant intended to boost broadcast coverage of under-represented sports.

The money, a boost to an earlier $30 million grant that caused a firestorm of criticism, pays the sports channel to broadcast sports under-represented on television.

Fox Sports is only available by subscription, meaning taxpayers must pay to watch the sports they are paying to broadcast.

Flurry of emails, most heavily redacted

Emails obtained using the Freedom of Information (FOI) process show a flurry of correspondence between the offices of the Communications Minister, Prime Minister and the department as the date of the announcement neared — and a quickly formulated plan to deal with angry callers contacting electorate offices after the grant was revealed.

As adjudicator of what would be released to the public, Mr Bloxsom denied access to any full document and sent just 13 items.

Of the 67 pages released, 19 pages are completely blanked out, most of them exempted for the reason they would reveal “trade secrets” or “information having a commercial value”. A further 16 pages are press releases or drafts.

Under the heading “deliberative processes” and “application of the public interest test”, Mr Bloxsom weighed the intention of the legislation behind FOI in the disclosure of emails between the offices of the Prime Minister and the Communications Minister.

The reasons for release included to “inform debate on a matter of public importance” and to “promote effective oversight of public expenditure”.

Reasons against disclosure included that it could reveal “opinion, advice or recommendations” from early deliberations, and “disclosure could reasonably be expected to have a detrimental effect on the working relationship between the minister’s office and the Prime Minister’s office, now and into the future”.

In weighing them, he found “on balance, I consider the public interest factors against disclosure to be more persuasive than the public interest factors favouring disclosure. I am satisfied that the public interest is to withhold the exempt material”.

Multiple brief emails from the Prime Minister’s office in the days before the release are blanked out.

“These lines are fine,” Communications Minister Paul Fletcher emailed on the day of the release, after being asked how to respond to three separate inquiries (that appear to be from journalists) about the grant.

Foxtel boss expressed his gratitude

Foxtel chief executive Patrick Delany emailed the minister directly to thank him for his support.

“It is appreciated. We will continue to exceed expectations with this grant as we have done with the previous tranche,” he wrote.

The release contended that coverage of women’s sports including AFLW, WNBL and W-League had increased more than 100 per cent since 2016 and that in the coming year 14 different sport codes would benefit, including rugby union, rugby league, cricket, basketball, hockey, softball and baseball.

Two days later, as public fury about the grant lit up social media, talkback radio lines and reception desks at electorate offices, an unnamed member of the minister’s office asked the boss if they could distribute a Q&A document to colleagues.

“A lot of your colleagues are receiving calls/emails about the grant given to Fox Sports to broadcast underrepresented, niche and emerging sports,” it read, attaching a document of “talking points” to refute criticism of the decision.

The dot points list reasons the grant benefited taxpayers and why it was not put out to tender so that public broadcasters SBS and the ABC could bid for it.

“The Government is providing support to boost the visibility and participation of underrepresented and women’s sports,” the notes read.

The minister took less than 20 minutes to respond: “Good to go.”

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Australian News

AFL’s Brisbane grand final may fuel Code Wars with NRL but both should focus on growing their sports

As an ecumenical sports fan in a country blessed by the possibility of watching any of four football codes during a slovenly iso night on the couch, you are not supposed to say this.

But I don’t mind a good Code Wars battle.

Kevin Sheedy gormlessly pretending not to know – or worse, actually not knowing — the name of NRL stars after stumbling across the Barassi Line into western Sydney.

The late Johnny Warren and his natural successor Craig Foster returning fire to those who ridiculed “wogball” and “boring goalless draws” with their dauntless belief the “world game” would prevail.

Roy Masters and Caroline Wilson sparring like Statler and Waldorf on Offsiders, the “great and glorious game of rugby league” pitted against the smug self-satisfaction of the southern religion.

I know, you’re meant to say, “Why can’t we all just enjoy the games without comparing them?” and “There is plenty of room for all?” — even if, as media rights money and sponsorship dwindles, this sentiment is somewhat naive.

But within reasonable bounds of good taste, the Code Wars theatre is a highly amusing alternative to the po-faced earnestness of on-message administrators.

Enter Australian Rugby League chairman Peter V’landys in tights and cape, leaping from the turnbuckle like a Labrador pouncing on a tennis ball.

The Australian Rugby League chairman speaks at an NRL media conference.
Peter V’landys is not concerned by the AFL grand final being staged in Brisbane.(AAP: Joel Carrett)

Pugnacious Pete jumped into the Code Wars fray this week after the AFL made the not particularly surprising decision to transfer this season’s grand final from the sadly abandoned MCG to the Gabba.

“It’s like feeding meat to a vegetarian,” V’landys told The Courier Mail of the AFL’s decision to throw a bone to the Brisbane public.

“The vegetarian might try it for a few minutes but then goes back to being a vegetarian.”

Casting Queenslanders as the vegetarians betrays an unexpected misunderstanding of the local market by the NRL chief.

Otherwise, his image of slightly nauseated Brisbane fans picking fragments of Dustin Martin and Nic Natanui from their teeth while they wait for Cam Smith to come and rescue their beloved Broncos is Code Wars gold.

It is also a colourful distraction from the boring truth — Code Wars are not being fought in packed stadiums or with punchy sound bites, but in school playgrounds and local parks on Saturday mornings.

The AFL premiership cup glistens in the sunlight while sitting on the turf at the Gabba
The AFL is hoping the Gabba grand final will strengthen its footing in Queensland.(AAP: Darren England)

According to The Courier Mail: “AFL powerbrokers have devised a long-term strategy to take over the NRL in Queensland and believe the Gabba grand final is a springboard towards cross-codes domination.”

In truth, the AFL is no more bent on market domination in Queensland than the world tiddlywinks association is dedicated to replacing football in Brazil.

Despite the Brisbane Lions 2001-2003 premiership three-peat, the flagship club had struggled to maintain profile in recent years.

Meanwhile, the estimated $200 million that will be invested in the Gold Coast Suns is a twenty-year project that — when COVID-19 struck — was considered instantly expendable by those heartland AFL clubs who view the Suns as an expensive indulgence.

Thus rather than dominance driven by powerful clubs, the AFL’s plan is merely to gain a sustainable niche in Queensland by developing the game from the grassroots up.

This is based on a rationale that has underpinned much of the AFL’s growth across Australia — those who play the game are many times more likely to watch, attend, buy merchandise and otherwise support the game.

Which, for those who view sport through the prism of elite competitions, brings us to the boring bit.

Development officers spending years finding grassroots volunteers to run programs that ensure so-called “participants” do more than pick up a free pack of goodies at an entry-level clinic.

They provide educational programs and resources for clubs to ensure they have the capacity to absorb increases in participation and improve retention rates at a time when kids are spoiled for choice — and notoriously difficult to budge from screens.

Grassroots investment is vital

The need to work from the grassroots up is informed by those sports that have failed, or have lacked the resources, to capitalise on their rare moment in the sun as much as those who are succeeding.

Remember how after Sydney Olympics thousands of people were so inspired we now have a generation of dedicated dressage riders, hammer throwers and Greco-Roman wrestlers?

Me neither.

The truth was that, as after most Olympics, more kids turned up at athletics clubs or archery ranges that were ill-equipped or not sufficiently funded to cope with their interest and, within months, the normal sporting order was restored.

The difficult spadework required to exploit precious exposure is particularly pressing in female sports given the current crush of major events and the emergence of high-profile stars across the spectrum.

If Cricket Australia was not working hard at the lowest levels supporting club volunteers, March’s T20 World Cup victory would have just been a well-attended Katy Perry concert.

A footballer with her back to camera celebrates a goal with teammates in Olympic football qualifier.
The Matildas’ 2023 World Cup campaign could do wonders for football in Australia.(AAP: Darren Pateman)

The same could be said of the AFLW’s current profile and — in prospect — the FIFA Women’s World Cup, which will be an opportunity wasted if Football Federation Australia does not use it to drive improved retention rates among the already large pool of early-age participants.

Accordingly, the rhetoric of the deluded AFL advocates pushing the idea a Queensland grand final will be crushing blow for Aussie rules in Queensland and the disdainful responses of NRL loyalists is just more Code Wars white noise.

In the COVID-19 era, the Code Wars winners will be those sports which hold their nerve when cutting budgets and continue to invest in development and growth.

Not those who put on the best laser light show at a displaced game.

Offsiders will cover all the latest sports issues, including a special look at international events, on Sunday at 10:00am on ABC TV.

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