Chris Dutton -Apr 8, 2014
Family before country: Abby Bishop will not go to the basketball World Championships this year. Photo: Katherine Griffiths
Canberra basketballer Abby Bishop has put family ahead of playing for her country, quitting her world championship dreams after Basketball Australia introduced a new parenting policy.
Bishop would have lost money on her bid to represent the Australian Opals in Turkey after BA ruled she would need to pay for flights, accommodation and childcare for Zala, the seven-month-old baby in her care.
As revealed in The Canberra Times in January, Bishop volunteered to take custody of Zala from her sister for personal reasons.
BA officials were happy for Zala to travel with the Opals, but a tight budget meant they were unable to offer financial support.
WNBL club the Canberra Capitals and her European team have assisted Bishop with looking after Zala, but BA is standing by its decision to ''keep the sanctity of high performance''.
Bishop, currently playing in Hungary, began caring for Zala when she was just two days old and effectively made the 25-year-old a single mother while also juggling a basketball career.
Bishop's unique situation forced BA to form a new policy on players who are also parents, and have now applied it to the Opals, the national men's team and wheelchair sides the Gliders and Rollers.
''I am pretty disappointed with the way this has been handled. The lack of support has led to the decision I won't be able to play for the Opals this year,'' Bishop said. ''I understand BA are trying to do the right thing, but I think it's crazy a European team and a WNBL team can be more understanding and accommodating about this than the national team.''
BA high performance manager Chuck Harmison said the same policy would be applied to women's and men's team in the future, pending approval from the BA board.
''We think the policy is fair,'' Harmison said. ''A child is allowed to attend games or camps, but we want to keep the sanctity of a high performance environment and make sure kids don't disrupt training, games or team accommodation.
''Kids can come along, but those that need looking after need a caregiver and the athlete would have to fund that. We're on a limited budget and if we start opening it up to covering cost of caregivers, we'll run out of money pretty quickly and won't win any medals.''
Bishop had hoped to play for the Opals at the world championships from September 27 to October 5, as well as playing warm-up tours around the world.
But to do so, she would have had to pay for a nanny to travel with her to look after Zala.
Female athletes earn significantly less than their male counterparts and the costs of playing for the Opals was too much for Bishop.
The Capitals adopted Zala as their own during their WNBL season, with Zala sitting in her pram at every training session and going on every road trip around Australia.
Bishop paid for her own room at hotels to ensure her teammates were not interrupted by middle of the night feeding.
Bishop has been waiting for months for BA to make a decision on whether Zala would be allowed to tour and has informed coach Brendan Joyce she will not be able to commit to the team.
''It's disappointing I won't be with the Opals this year, but Zala comes first for me,'' Bishop said.
''It's a shame it couldn't be worked out. It's hard for any mother when there is international travel involved and I didn't want to affect the team. I hope to be back in the Opals in the future, but Zala is my priority.''
Harmison met with senior Opals at a camp in Canberra last month - including superstar Lauren Jackson - and the players raised the prospect of BA providing funding for childcare.
The parental policy is expected to be approved by the BA board in the coming weeks.
BA consulted with netball, hockey and water polo before forming its new parental policy.
Harmison said Bishop's absence would not affect her prospects as a future Opal as she aims for the Olympic Games in Rio in 2016.
''If Abby follows the policy, we'll have her back in a heartbeat,'' Harmison said.