Sport

Rachel Jarry plays for one of Australia's most successful sporting teams. So where's the recognition? By Richard Cooke.
Credit: MICHELLE COULING

Bronzed Aussie: Rachel Jarry, 23, basketballer

Rachel Jarry is one of the rising stars of women’s basketball in Australia, first representing her country in 2012 and winning a bronze medal at the London Olympics. In 2013 she won the WNBA championship with the Minnesota Lynx. She now plays in the WNBL with the Melbourne Boomers. 

Richard Cooke It’s not a great time for the WNBL. After getting marquee stars back to play in Australia and securing sponsorship, the league now looks set to lose television coverage again.

Rachel Jarry The ABC has been such a great supporter of the WNBL for so long. To lose that now – we have to go back to the drawing board and find different avenues to continue to grow our sport. We’re going to try to put ourselves out there and see what can happen.

RC How do you feel about it personally? I mean the WNBA gets big crowds, attracts a lot of interest in the US. It must feel like quite a climb down at the moment.

RJ Yeah, it’s just hard because our product is so good. All I want to do is tell people that we have these amazing players in this league, but we don’t get that recognition. It’s really hard to get media time. Our league is probably in the top three or four in the world. It’s really disappointing when it’s so strong but the exposure doesn’t happen.

RC That also makes things more difficult financially as well – sponsorship is in jeopardy and it makes being a full-time athlete more difficult.

RJ That’s going to be the big thing that comes out of all this. It’s going to be difficult to maintain sponsors. I know Basketball Australia have said that, you know, their major sponsors have said they’re in it for the long haul and it’s not about the TV exposure, it’s about the product we have. Hopefully that’s a good sign but, yeah, it’s definitely going to be tough on the teams.

RC How do you feel about the fact that we’re still having this conversation? This is the kind of conversation that was happening in women’s sport 25, even 35 years ago. Is it a sense of frustration that it’s Groundhog Day?

RJ It is really frustrating. We put just as much time and effort in as any other professional athlete, but we don’t get the same pay or the same sort of media attention. It’s time for people to start recognising that we are elite athletes. Australia has consistently medalled in women’s basketball at Olympics and world championships. We’re probably one of the most successful [national] teams in any sport in the past 10, 15 years. The public kind of knows that, but we still don’t get the respect we probably deserve. 

RC Netball seems to get more cut-through. Is it a rival to basketball, or are you in the same boat?

RJ We don’t really see netball as a rival. We really take heart in where that sport was 15 years ago – it’s very similar to where we are now. They were struggling, and they really got their players’ association up and running, and they’ve forced Netball Australia to make some really big changes and invest in their sport. They’re reaping the rewards now. There’s plenty of room in Australia for both sports. We obviously appeal to different kinds of people. I think we can get the NBL fans on our side and, obviously, we play at the Olympics, so we have that opportunity that netball doesn’t.

RC Will interest in basketball in Australia ever get back to that 1990s peak?

RJ I think it can come around again. I feel like basketball support has grown in the past few years, and I think that’s definitely got a lot to do with the Australian NBA boys, you know, really doing well overseas. When Patty Mills’s team [the San Antonio Spurs] won the NBA championship last year, that was a huge deal and it was in the papers for days. They went around the country with their trophies. But, you know, then we had Penny Taylor and Erin Phillips win the WNBA championship [with Phoenix Mercury] and there was nowhere near the same fanfare.

 

This week’s highlights…

• Cricket: Australia v India first Test

Tuesday-Saturday, 10.30am (local time), Adelaide Oval

• Athletics: Zatopek: 10

Thursday, 5.45pm, Lakeside Stadium, Albert Park, Melbourne

• Basketball: NBL, Adelaide 36ers v Melbourne United

Friday, 7.30pm (local time), Adelaide Arena 

Buy tickets now for…

• Track cycling: Austral Wheelrace and Australian Madison Championships 

December 20, Hisense Arena, Melbourne

• Tennis: Brisbane International 

January 4-11, Queensland Tennis Centre, Brisbane

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Dec 6, 2014 as "Bronzed Aussie". Subscribe here.

Richard Cooke
is a journalist and writer for television. He is The Saturday Paper's sports editor.