Olympians complain of gender discrimination
By DENNIS PASSA
AP Sports Writer
BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — Men up front, women in the back.
Not so fast, Olympians.
Sports governing bodies from Japan and Australia are being skewered following complaints that male Olympic athletes flew business class to the London Games, while the women sat in the cheap seats.
Japan's world champion women's football team took exception to flying economy while their male counterparts sat in business en route to the games.
"It should have been the other way around," Japanese soccer star Homare Sawa, the 2011 FIFA women's world player of the year, said after arriving in Paris after the 13-hour flight, with just the short hop to London left. "Even just in terms of age we are senior."
The Japan Football Association said the men's under-23 Olympic team members flew in business class because they are professionals. The women, however, are likely be the bigger draw at the games. Only months after the devastating earthquake and tsunami hit Japan last year, they brought a sliver of joy to their country by winning their first World Cup title.
The Australian women's basketball team has also been more successful than the men, earning the silver medal at each of the last three Olympics.
On Friday, Basketball Australia said it would make sure the flight flap doesn't happen again.
"(We will) review our Olympic travel policy with the goal of ensuring there is equity between travel arrangements for the men's and women's teams attending future Olympics," the basketball governing body said in a statement.
This year's Olympics will mark the first time that every competing country will field female athletes. It's also the first time, after the inclusion of women's boxing, that every sport at the Olympics will have both male and female competitors.
Gender equality, however, has taken a beating in some circles.
"The simple fact is when a policy results in gender inequality, it's very clearly not the right policy," Basketball Australia acting chief executive Scott Derwin said.
Not all the Australian women were stuck in coach. WNBA player Lauren Jackson was in first class because she is an "ambassador" with the airline involved, and Liz Cambage, another WNBA player, paid to upgrade herself to business class.
The incoming chief executive of Basketball Australia welcomed the travel policy review.
"In this day and age, there's just no excuse for men's and women's sporting teams to be treated differently when they both compete at the same world-class level," said Kristina Keneally, a former state political leader of New South Wales. "The disparity is even more glaring when you consider that our women's basketball team is one of the best in the world."
In London, Australian chef de mission Nick Green said the national Olympic committee provides round-trip economy airfares for all team members with the official airline sponsor.
"We're comfortable for the sports to look after their athletes," Green said. "We give them the travel subsidy to travel. ... and the sports themselves determine how they use that."
Other Australian Olympic teams also fly economy, but some organizations, like Swimming Australia, give its athletes the option to upgrade to business class at their own expense.
Former Australian women's basketball captain Robyn Maher said the Australian women's team had repeatedly asked Basketball Australia to justify the inequity.
"Over the years it's been a multitude of (reasons given) — the men get better funding, so they've been able to do it; the men are bigger, so they need more space," she told the Sydney Morning Herald. "It's been a bit of a sore spot, especially since the women are much more successful."