Netball: Stars can't give up their day job

By Candice Reed

A year ago it was the Melbourne Vixens under scrutiny and forced to defend accusations of breaches to the ANZ Championship salary cap rules.

With seven Australian squad members signed to the Victorian-based club, plus talented youth to bolster the bench, the Vixens were arguably the strongest team in the inaugural transtasman competition last year.

When announcing her 12-member playing squad in December 2007, Vixens coach Julie Hoornweg boasted it was a "coach's dream" to be able to name an all-Australian line-up with the likes of Bianca Chatfield and Julie Prendergast in defence, Natasha Chokljat, Madison Browne and Renae Hallinan in the midcourt and Caitlin Thwaites and superstar Sharelle McMahon in the shooting circle.

It didn't take long before the question was asked: 'How is it possible to have so many elite players and remain under the salary cap?'

This year the mud is flying across the ditch again. Queensland Firebirds coach Vicki Wilson commented on the make-up of some New Zealand teams and speculated they were straying outside the salary cap rules.

There was little doubt that Wilson was referring to the Waikato/Bay of Plenty Magic who have seven Silver Ferns contracted to the squad.

Last week Vixens business manager Leslie Burrows said people were always going to make assumptions when netball clubs, or any sporting franchise, boasted a first-class line-up. She reiterated that neither the Vixens nor the Magic had broken any rules.

"The Magic have so many Silver Ferns, and some teams are asking how they can do that within the salary cap, but we faced the same questions last year," Burrows says.

"We had the strongest team on paper and funnily enough were one of the teams to be audited at the end of the year. There were two teams chosen [to be audited], us and the Magic. We passed and so did the Magic. You can't mess with the figures."

Under the salary cap each club has $300,000 to play with. But this figure has also caused some ill-feeling between the Australian and New Zealand franchises. According to Burrows, because of the exchange rate, Australian clubs actually receive A$262,000 to use as bargaining chips to buy players.

"This is why some Australian clubs feel disadvantaged," Burrows says. "It's obvious there's room for things to be tightened up, but the competition has grown so quickly that I don't think there has actually been time to tighten up these loose ends.

"I know there are procedures being put in place now to make a better 2010 competition," Burrows says.

In New Zealand, it is believed elite players can earn around $50,000 from the seven-month-long ANZ championship season alone.

Star players such as Irene van Dyk can add sponsorship and endorsements on top of that to earn an annual salary estimated to be well into six figures, but most players simply cannot rely on netball to be their sole source of income.

The minimum player payment is $12,000, so it's little wonder many players also hold down full-time jobs, or part-time jobs while completing full-time tertiary study.

The players' collective agreement stipulates players' training, playing and promotional activities cannot exceed 20 hours a week during the season, while trainings cannot be held between 9am and 5pm, without the players' agreement.

While Burrows wouldn't be drawn into releasing pay details for Vixens players, she admits netballers will never be millionaires.

"We've got players who study full-time, work part-time and train, travel and play with us. They are amazing girls," Burrows says.

"We see a lot of AFL [Australian Football League] players at functions and they don't believe how our players can manage that kind of workload. There's no way the AFL guys would do the same for the same money."

Northern Mystics chief executive officer Mark Cameron says while the idea of netball becoming a professional sport is attractive to players and clubs, it's unlikely to happen in the next five years.

"The level of money to sustain something like that just isn't there," he explains. But he adds the increase in professionalism of the sport and the newly introduced transtasman league have resulted in a major jump in pay for top-end players.

"Since the introduction of the ANZ champs player payment has increased three to five fold," he says.

"That's a sizeable jump and one that players, at least here at the Mystics, have welcomed. Most players seem comfortable with the development of pay, and as time demands increase, we know players will require more money in order to survive."

Like Burrows and the Vixens, Cameron also stood up for the Magic and applauded the club's Kiwi ingenuity to field a talented side on limited funds.

"It's time to dispel the myth coming out from across the Tasman," Cameron says. "Yes, the Magic are laden with Silver Ferns but they aren't breaking any salary cap.

"The Aussies might be thinking 'how does it work?' but it does. Those players are employed outside netball and that's how the Magic manage it. No one, including the Magic, is breaking any rules."

- Herald on Sunday

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