Liz Ellis: The Mi Mi debacle can't happen again
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Opinion

Liz Ellis: The Mi Mi debacle can't happen again

In the lead-in to last weekend’s Indigenous round, the talk was around netball finding the answers to the question of why more Indigenous women don’t play at the highest level.

Then along came Sunday and the Queensland Firebirds' decision to not play the only Indigenous player in Super Netball in Indigenous round. A player who the league had relied heavily on in the lead-up as the face of the round, yet who saw not a minute of the match against the minor premiers, the Melbourne Vixens.

This is despite the fact that the Firebirds could not make finals, and that the match had no bearing on the ladder given that the Vixens had already wrapped up the minor premiership.

The Firebirds released a statement on Monday night stating that the decision to leave Mi Mi off the court was “the right one from a game strategy perspective, however we misread community expectations and the significance of Jemma’s court time in the game in this round”.

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With all due respect, I don’t know how the Firebirds' management could have misread the community expectations around playing Mi Mi.

If the league is running an Indigenous round, then the community expects that the player you rely on to promote that very round will get game time. This is especially so when said player has been good enough to play multiple games. Even more so in a year where you can use the new rolling subs rule to get players on and off when things aren’t working.

It begs the question as to whether there was any discussion about this between Queensland Firebirds management and the coaching staff prior to the game, and if not why not?

This whole situation could have been avoided by the Firebirds affording Mi Mi the respect she deserves, and playing her. It’s not tokenism. It’s symbolism. Mi Mi is a symbol of the players we want in our game at all levels.

Not surprisingly, there has been significant backlash. It has also shone a light on the experiences of other Indigenous players in the Firebirds' system. Both Beryl Friday and Helena Higgins (nee Saunders) have detailed their negative experiences while playing at the Firebirds.

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to see one player treated this way is a misfortune, two is carelessness, and to see three starts to look like a pattern that must be addressed.

Whichever way you look at it, we have a crisis. And it is mainly a crisis of confidence that netball is capable of doing anything meaningful about this situation.

We don’t have time for soul searching. The time has passed to look hard at ourselves and seek out where the issue lies.

We need a plan. But we need more than that. We need accountability.

Indigenous round should create that accountability going forward. It has been suggested that Super Netball doesn’t deserve an Indigenous round, and shouldn’t have one until there are more Indigenous players.

It is a fair criticism, but I don’t agree. I do agree, though, that it can’t go forward as it is.

Instead it can be used as a powerful reminder each year of what we need to do better. Firstly, netball must develop a plan to address the issues in the system, and then to coincide with Indigenous round each year there should be reporting to tell us where we stand in terms of Indigenous players, coaches, umpires and administrators.

Indigenous round has to be more than beautiful artwork on dresses and balls. Over time it has become an opportunity for netball to listen and learn. Now it needs to be the point in the year where we report on and hold ourselves accountable to the cold hard numbers.

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