Netballer Nat Medhurst dealing with pregnancy, pay cuts and presidency during a pandemic

Australia World

Posted April 05, 2020 12:32:54

Collingwood Magpies shooter Nat Medhurst was supposed to be enjoying this Super Netball season from the sidelines, helping coach the team while preparing for her baby’s arrival in July.

Key points:

  • The 2020 Super Netball season was due to begin on May 2, but the coronavirus outbreak has led to the league’s suspension until at least June 30
  • Like many sports, Netball Australia is looking into all options to get some form of competition going this year once it is safe to resume
  • Super Netball has a unique broadcast deal with Channel Nine that shares profits from advertising revenue, but the deal is due to expire next year

Instead, the Australian Netball Players’ Association (ANPA) president has been at the forefront of dealing with the coronavirus fallout for her sport.

The start of the season has been delayed until at least June 30, and the ANPA has agreed for players to take two weeks of leave, and then a 70 per cent pay cut for a further three weeks.

“I know there’s been a bit of talk on the outside thinking that it’s only the minimum wage players that are really heavily impacted by this,” Medhurst said.

“But the impact of that pay cut is felt by every single player based on their individual circumstances.”

Despite featuring in Australia’s best paid domestic women’s competition, the average annual player salary is $67,000 and the minimum wage is $30,000.

Adding to Medhurst’s headache is the fact her partner, former West Coast Eagles player Sam Butler, is also a victim of the sport shutdown, having been stood down from his job at the AFL club.

“I think it’s that uncertainty that makes it really quite daunting. And then obviously me taking a 70 per cent pay cut as well, when there’s a mortgage or rent and a baby on the way, it adds in some pretty unsettling moments.”

The Government’s JobKeeper payment is a lifeline for players, clubs, and the governing bodies, Netball Australia and Super Netball, who have had to stand down half their workforce.

They’ve all applied for the program which allows eligible businesses to claim $750 per week, per employee.

It is welcome relief for ANPA chief executive Kathryn Harby-Williams after an emotionally exhausting week.

“That gives us some hope, particularly for the lower paid players if they’re eligible. Compared to where we were at this time last week, it’s a game changer,” she said.

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“Our understanding is that the minimum wage earners will actually come out really well, considering the circumstances, but they’ll almost come out ahead with this JobKeeper which is great,” Medhurst added.

Hopes for a short season

While preparations are being made for the worst-case scenario of no netball at all in 2020, Super Netball chief executive Chris Symington is eager to find a way of getting any form of the competition played this year for the all-important broadcast revenue.

“We want to put everything on the table and that’s a full season, a shortened season, a tournament style format, playing multiple games during the week, and whether we need to change the way in which our games are played to accommodate that,” he said.

“It’s now a matter of dealing with our partners to see what’s actually achievable, but also getting the correct advice from the Government, from health experts to understand when we may be able to come back.”

If the competition does manage a belated start, it could make it worth the wait for some players like Medhurst.

“I know for myself and players who have injuries, it’s a possible silver lining that we might actually get to play this season.

“So it’s also given me a little bit of a distraction as well amongst this, [to] get excited about the possibility of playing.”

Commercial future

Netball Australia’s revenue has been growing steadily since breaking away from the Trans-Tasman Championship in favour of the all-Australian Super Netball which started in 2017.

A large part of that has been due to a unique broadcast agreement with Channel Nine, where they share profits from advertising income.

But the five-year deal, which also includes Telstra TV, expires at the end of next year, coming at a time where all sports will be desperately fighting for broadcast money.

“Sport sits at the heart of so many broadcasters’ programming, and I think it will continue to do that,” Netball Australia chief executive Marne Fechner said.

“How we do that in the future is no doubt going to evolve and change, and perhaps the COVID crisis is going to speed that up a little bit.

“We have really strong, innovative relationships with our broadcast partners, I don’t think that changes as a result of this.”

It’s not just the top end of the sport that’s hurting at the moment. Netball is the number one participation sport for girls and women, and that’s forced Netball Australia to find other ways to engage with its base.

“From difficulty and adversity comes some real innovation,” Fechner said.

“There’s some really great ideas that are starting to emerge in terms of how we can actually change our business to be much more digitally led.”

That includes a collaboration with NETFIT to provide free online workouts and programs, as well as plans to roll out the organisation’s junior participation program online.

Netball staying united

While some of the other major sports have had very public disputes throughout the pandemic, netball is presenting a united front as it fights to survive and thrive.

“What I do know is the sport is really working hard collectively to make sure that we put ourselves in a position… to ensure that going forward we are sustainable and we can continue to build on the growth that has occurred in recent times,” Harby-Williams said.

Symington said he believes disruption could bring opportunity, as well as challenges.

“I feel like this is a pause, I don’t think it’s going to put us back,” he said.

“We feel confident that when we re-emerge and rebound from this pandemic, that the appetite for Super Netball and the appetite for sport in general is going to be bigger and better than ever.”

And the players are prepared to do whatever it takes to ensure they keep moving forward.

“We haven’t had the luxury of some of the other sports that have had a massive boom, straight off the bat,” Medhurst, who has witnessed the sport’s evolution over her 16-year career, said.

“We’ve had players who have been really dedicated day in day out on the back of not much. We’re incredibly grateful of what we do have. And I think that’s gonna [hold] us in really good stead over this time.”

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Topics: infectious-diseases-other, respiratory-diseases, covid-19, sport, netball, melbourne-3000, collingwood-3066, vic, australia

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