An all-boys netball team that won a state title in Queensland was reportedly subjected to ugly abuse after beating a side made up of female players in the decider.
The Queensland Suns Under-17 team won the Under-18s championship in Brisbane this week, beating regional female teams en route to the trophy.
The Courier Mail reports after the Suns beat the Bond University Bull Sharks 46-12 in the final, some members of the crowd directed abuse towards the boys, believing it was unfair they were allowed to compete.
Suns coach Tammy Holcroft told the publication: "The abuse ranged from comments made courtside deliberately within earshot of the Suns contingent, to adults making vulgar comments directly behind the team bench.
"It's disappointing that the frustration was directed at the players.
"At the very core of this, our boys just want to play and they copped the brunt of these comments and behaviours and were made to feel unwelcomed and unsupported."
Uproar over decision to play boys against girls
In a Facebook post after the final, the Bull Sharks wrote: "Congratulations on an outstanding tournament to our 18U Women. Undefeated by other women's teams for the week and runners up in the State Titles."
The comments on a separate Facebook post promoting the final questioned why an all-boys' team was competing against a girls' side.
"Netball QLD in their wisdom thought it would be fair to include a young men's state team against regional young women's team and allow them to contest the State Title," Jodie Muir wrote.
Renee Miles replied: "Netball QLD seems to be as intelligent as the QRL," with a face palm emoji.
Netball Queensland posted about the success of the state titles on Facebook, but responses were extremely critical.
"While everyone is patting themselves on the back for being inclusive and allowing boys to play in this comp … has anyone stopped to ask the girls how they feel about this?" Alain De Villiers wrote. "What I saw during the comp was a bunch of excited energetic competitive girls … until they played the boys!
"After each game against the boys (where every team was beaten convincingly may I add) I watched girls become suddenly deflated and unenthused. It seemed most girls were initially keen to play the boys only to face the reality that the boys were physically stronger, could move faster and jump higher.
"Anyone with an ounce of common sense can see this is not good for netball. Please stop bringing your politics into this and think of the players.
"I am not hating on the boys at all, on the contrary I have utmost respect for them, they treated the girls were [sic] absolute respect and played hard and fair.
"I even heard a whisper they offered to withdraw from the grand final. Let's keep netball fair and ensure boys play against boys, for everyone's sake."
Jason Ward added: "It is an absolute disgrace. How these decisions get made who know. Absolute stupidity and inclusiveness gone mad. Done nothing to inspire girls who were humiliated."
Joe Muir commented: "I don't know of any sport in the world that would have allowed this to happen, total disgrace."
On Twitter, Noely Neate told her nearly 24,000 followers: "They got it wrong big time. Fine for Suns to play when is an exhibition-style thing, but not when it is a trained hard for 'championship' style thing, as why bother with all that work when can never win?
"Should have had a parallel comp for the guys at same time and venue.
"I think Netball Queensland screwed up really badly here. Not only hurt the girls who have trained so hard and made mockery of championships but put the Suns in a really sh***y position too when they need more support from netball fans to get a boys/mens comp running."
Netball Queensland has a photo on its website of a boys and girls team in a huddle linking to a news article on the recent state titles, and the organisation's CEO Catherine Clark was happy to spruik the official inclusion of the Suns team.
"This year, in an effort to showcase the talent in both female and male pathways we offered the Queensland Sun's men's team the opportunity to play in the Nissan State Titles having welcomed the Suns in an invitational capacity in 2020," Clark said.
"Just as we have seen in New Zealand with the Cadbury Series, where the Silver Ferns play against the New Zealand Men's Netball team, we are hopeful this will be the catalyst for a stand-alone men's competition in 2022 and inspires more boys to get involved in netball."
Netball Queensland high performance director Demelza Fellowes was also supportive of the move to have boys compete against girls.
"We're delighted to have the Queensland Suns participating in the Nissan State Titles. As a high-performance pathway, extending the capability of our athletes is paramount in readying ourselves for the diversity of competition expected from the other states," Fellowes said.
"Men tend to play a different style of netball — for example, using the fringes of the court and encouraging more aerial play in the circle so they've challenged our women's teams over the past two days of competition. It has been wonderful to watch all of our players step up and get better with each game.
"Our Queensland Firebirds and Sapphire teams regularly train with the Queensland Suns, which provides an opportunity to continue to extend and adapt our skills as netballers."