explainer

"I'm sorry if I offended any girl." Why the sporting world is talking about netball.

"If I can't have tough conversations with my better players I might as well coach netball."

That was the comment made by NRL coach Ricky Stuart last week, as reported by Daily Telegraph's Paul Kent, that has triggered a swirl of criticism for its condescending and 'outdated' nature. 

“It’s 2021 and comments like this are still getting said about women in general and there’s no need for it,” NSW Swifts star Sophie Garbin said, responding to Stuart's comments, according to 7News.

“The fact that he said it is one [thing] but the fact that no one pulled him up about it in the moment is even worse.

“Netball deserves respect. We’ve got over a million girls playing and to get to the top level is really tough... People get dropped from teams, get put in teams, there’s lots of ups and downs in netball and I think people need to come to a game to see how tough it really is.”

Netball Australia chair Marina Go echoed these comments, saying: “I’ve met Ricky Stuart and I’d like to think that on reflection he would be embarrassed by that comment because this is a really tough sport for women played at an elite level with extraordinary athletes."

Sports commentator and former Australian Netball player Liz Ellis also expressed disappointment in the comment, tweeting: "Stop making netball a euphemism for 'not tough'. If you are still doing that in 2021 you might need get out to a game to do some fact-checking."

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The Canberra Raiders coach laughed in response to the backlash as he offered an apology to the netball community last week, before suggesting netball should be grateful for the "publicity" he has given them. 

"I respect all sports and it was an off-the-cuff comment," he said with a rueful shake of the head. "I’ve had a laugh about it.

"But look, I respect netball and I'm sorry if I offended any girl or boy that plays netball. All sports are tough and I understand that...

"As John Fordham once said to me, 'Mate any publicity is good publicity as long as they're spelling your name right' ... I hope netball take it as good publicity for them."

Netball Australia Interim CEO Ron Steiner said following Stuart's remarks: "While we acknowledge his apology, we won’t walk past a comment that demonstrates a total misunderstanding and disrespect to the sport of netball, and to its people."

On Channel Nine's Sports Sunday, Liz Ellis said sarcastically, "Thanks, Ricky, for the publicity for the ladies. That's great."

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Ellis continued: "People are going, 'Why are you offended by this? Get a life'. It's actually just a build-up. It's paper cuts - over a 1000 little paper cuts that actually get to the point where you go, 'You know what, you have to stop. It's the 21st century, you have to stop making netball and women's sport a euphemism for being soft. You can't just have a throwaway line'.

"I know it's a throwaway line and I know that Ricky Stuart and Paul Kent, in reporting it, didn't wake up that morning and think, 'Oh, we're going to take a potshot at netball'. Just like I didn't wake up Thursday morning and think, 'I want to open a can of whoop arse on Ricky Stuart'.

"It's more that you actually react to what's in front of you. When they have that throwaway line ... I coach two little under-10s netball teams at Ballina Netball Association, the Seahorses and the Turtles. I think, 'I've got to stick up for them', because the standard you walk past is the standard you accept."

As for the apology that he offered, the former netball player said she didn't believe it was "proper" one. 

"All I wanted was for him to come out and say, 'You know what, I've reflected, poor choice of words, I won't do it again'," she explained.

"He doesn't have to apologise. He just needs to acknowledge that he got it wrong."

Feature image: Getty/Channel Nine. 

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