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April 9, 2014 at 12:59 PM

Mailbag: Baby problems in Australia

BishopZala

Former Storm F Abby Bishop and niece Zala
Photo by Katherine Griffiths

From the Twitter files, follower Jodie Skellern asked: “Does Team USA have a parent assistance policy for bball athletes traveling with children while playing for USA?”

In case you haven’t heard, former Storm F Abby Bishop is upset with her native Basketball Australia due to it denying financial assistance for mothers. Bishop was part of Seattle’s 2010 WNBA championship team but didn’t log a minute during the historic 7-0 playoff run to the title. While the Storm retained her WNBA rights, Bishop has grown to be a solid international player.

This is probably the Olympian’s better playing stint. She returned from an ankle injury to average 18.5 points and 10.3 rebounds for the Canberra Capitals (replacing injured Lauren Jackson on the roster). Bishop went on to win the Hungarian Cup for Pecs in March and is still playing in Hungary.

Bishop, 25, has also taken the full responsibility to parent her newborn niece. The international teams didn’t flinch at Bishop being a single parent needing assistance, Bishop voluntarily paying for her own hotel room to keep teammates from dealing with sleepless nights and early-morning feedings. The Opals? Bishop was forced to decline playing for the team in the fall’s FIBA World Championships because they won’t provide childcare or travel costs and don’t want the distraction.

The policy emerged because of Bishop and has been applied to the men’s and wheelchair teams, too.

”We think the policy is fair,” said Chuck Harmison, the high performance and national teams manager for Basketball Australia, when questioned by Australian media. ”A child is allowed to attend games or camps, but we want to keep the sanctity of a high performance environment and make sure kids don’t disrupt training, games or team accommodation. Kids can come along, but those that need looking after need a caregiver and the athlete would have to fund that. We’re on a limited budget and if we start opening it up to covering cost of caregivers, we’ll run out of money pretty quickly and won’t win any medals.”

True, America is one of a few countries that doesn’t mandate paid maternity leave or assistance by businesses for mothers and fathers. But it’s a common belief that it’s good business and USA Basketball follows that practice.

Through the years, Sheryl Swoopes, Natalie Williams, Tina Thompson, and Candace Parker are mothers who’ve at some point needed help during international competition.

“We cover costs for a child care provider (and the child) to travel with us,” a USA Basketball spokeswoman replied via email.

Athletics isn’t the only arena where you see this type of assistance in America. Daycare is often offered for free in some traditional workplaces, the gym and the grocery store and exceptions are made when needed practically everywhere. Countless times I’ve showed up to work and a fellow journalist had their child in tow because they’re in a bind or the single caregiver.

The stark notion by some in Australia that work is work and home is home and not to be mixed is archaic and doesn’t make for a healthy society. I don’t have children but it doesn’t take one to know a person is more productive and focused when they know their family is safe and they can earn a living at a profession they love.

Tucked in America where women from high school up to the pros have balanced motherhood and sport without a hitch in their commitment or talent, Basketball Australia’s discrimination against Bishop — and all future mothers — isĀ  jarring. No woman should not have to choose between motherhood and a career, whether it be as an athlete or in the business world, and should be supported in doing so.

Yeah, I can think of places where it would be inappropriate for child to be, like with mommy at a crime scene or a construction site. But panicking because of Bishop’s situation is absurd. It reeks of Basketball Australia thinking all of its players are going to run out and get babies or have babies and demand the organization cares for them. The fact it took until 2014 for it to become an issue with the national basketball teams should be enough proof parenthood isn’t going to be a financial burden in need of a stopgap policy.

And turning away one of your country’s better players shows you don’t care about winning medals anyway. At the very least make the decision case-by-case.

Bishop’s story is creating a small stir in Australia. Perhaps it’ll force the organization to change in time for Bishop to compete. Harmison said it won’t affect her consideration for the 2016 Olympic team, as long as she accepts the policy.

Here’s a little tidbit to consider when declaring babies a” distraction.” The Americans I mentioned? They’ve all won Olympic gold.

”It’s disappointing I won’t be with the Opals this year, but Zala comes first for me,” Bishop told the Canberra Times. “It’s a shame it couldn’t be worked out. It’s hard for any mother when there is international travel involved and I didn’t want to affect the team. I hope to be back in the Opals in the future, but Zala is my priority.”

Comments | More in Mailbag, Olympics, Overseas Hoops

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