WELLINGTON, July 24 (Reuters) - New Zealand’s world champion netballers began filtering home on Wednesday to a low-key welcome and a raging debate about equity and the disparity in prize money between men’s and women’s sports.
The Silver Ferns produced a remarkable turnaround to clinch the world title in Liverpool with a 52-51 win over Australia on Sunday, little more than a year after they failed to win a medal at the Commonwealth Games.
They received no prize money from the International Netball Federation, however, and the contrast with the $2 million the New Zealand men’s cricket team earned for losing the World Cup final the week before triggered a fierce debate.
The players who did arrive home on Wednesday were not prepared to get dragged into the row just yet.
“The biggest thing is you can’t compare the cricketers to us,” goal attack Ameliaranne Ekenasio told reporters at Auckland airport on Wednesday.
“We play for pride, pride in the fern and the black dress. That is what gets our passion burning.
“No one here plays for the money, no one ever has. How cool would it be to get a payout, but unfortunately that’s not the case.”
The country’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was not so reticent, however, and challenged Netball New Zealand’s sponsors to stump up a win bonus for the team. She got an immediate response from ANZ bank.
“The Silver Ferns’ World Cup victory was inspirational, so we’re happy to work with other key stakeholders to contribute to a fund in recognition of the team’s commitment and dedication,” ANZ said in a statement to Stuff Media on Tuesday.
Despite the fact it is the number one women’s sport in New Zealand, netball does not generate the same amount of commercial interest as other sports.
INF chief executive Clare Briegal told Reuters at the Commonwealth Games last year that its annual budget was under $900,000.
Briegal said on Tuesday until there was increased sponsorship and television revenue, there was no chance of prize money.
“Prize money’s not something that’s even on the table at the moment for our netballers,” she told Radio New Zealand, adding that much of the revenue generated by the World Cup was ploughed back into development programmes.
“That seems fairer to us - those smaller countries need the money, more so than some of the bigger countries.”
Local media reported that the top-tier Silver Ferns earned about NZ$130,000 ($87,048) a year.
The world champion New Zealand women’s rugby team are on retainers of about NZ$50,000, while the median salary in New Zealand is just under NZ$52,000.
The earnings of the Silver Ferns pale into insignificance when compared to the salaries in men’s sport, where top-tier All Blacks earn more than NZ$500,000.
“We play netball because we love it - if we wanted money we’d go chase something else somewhere else,” defender Jane Watson added.
“To us, it’s really important that we went out there for each other and for the country and really enjoy that.” ($1 = 1.4937 New Zealand dollars) (Writing by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Nick Mulvenney)