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Support, respect and inclusivity: The pillars of the Adelaide Lightning's Pride games
The Adelaide Lightning’s pride round games will take place this week driven by Marena Whittle who wants to provide a safe sporting space for all the community.
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It’s no secret that Marena Whittle wants the Adelaide Lightning’s Pride Round this week to provide a positive impact on the WNBL, the players of all clubs participating, and the wider community.
Whittle has a had a strong season on court, averaging close to career best numbers with 9.3 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. And while the finals aspirations of the Lightning who have a 4-8 win-loss record, hang by a thread, Whittle is also on a quest to make sure that their pride themed round is not just a token gesture, and deliver a significant message and last legacy that all can embrace, both now and into the future.
“In my mind that it’s 2023, and we've been doing pride rounds for a few years here (at Adelaide), and I guess times are changing,” explained Whittle in speaking with The Pick and Roll.
“We're very aware of what is family friendly and what isn’t, and I think with having a pride round with the focus of support, respect and inclusivity - we're trying to build a foundation for our community and for our culture to bring in not only the LGBTQIA+ community, but also a family friendly environment that all can come to.”
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The pride round is a showcase for how Adelaide, through its new ownership, is supportive of the causes of its players and the community. Steven and Karen Wren, representatives of the Pelligra Group and Bright Eyes, combined with Adelaide General Manager Reece Turner, have thrown their support behind Whittle and her fellow athletes, and not only their individual causes, but of each one of them as female athletes.
“With Pelligra group and Bright Eyes, they were so supportive of the playing group from their staff to our coaching staff including Nat [Hurst] and Matt [Clarke]. The impact Steve and Karen have had is impossible to put down to words, because they're so present. They're so supportive, vocal, put in the work, walk the walk, and they talk the talk. They're amazing leaders and they're amazing themselves.” Whittle praised the ownership group and leaders of the club – who have helped setup this important round via their supportive stance.
“They [Steve, Karen and Reece] are very visible and I think for us as players that makes us think that anything is possible with our GM and staff.
“The Adelaide Lightning as a core group as an organisation from top down is an extremely supportive one.”
Every club in the WNBL has causes that are close to their team, community and athletes, just as we’ve seen through past seasons, and again continues this season. It serves as an opportunity to share the athletes’ stories, highlighting their journeys as professional athletes and individuals, helping impart their experiences for positive change within the greater community.
At the heart of this week’s pride round celebration is a strong message that Whittle wanted to share; about creating respect for all individuals in the WNBL, and those from within their communities.
“I think that visibility and recognising members of our community members of our WNBL who a part of the LGBTQI+ community as well is important. We need to celebrate aspects of us as individuals and as personal as people.” Whittle explained her reasoning behind the round to her.
“I'm very proud of who I am, and I think that this is something that if I can take steps in creating around and because we're going to support such an awesome round that celebrates individuals and community at large - then I absolutely want to scream from the rooftops that this is amazing!”
“But for me, I just love this round because it's gives me an opportunity to celebrate a cause myself that I'm very vocal about anyway but it's cool to have a round to celebrate me, my partnership and who I am as an individual away from basketball being a law student, being the person to the community I am - all these great things, but there's an awesome side to me and my involvement in the gay community.”
For WNBL teams like the Lightning, while they are focused on on working towards on court success, engaging with families, and creating a safe, family environment for their supporters and fans is just as important off the court. According to Whittle, the league is going a long way to recognising and acknowledging the individuality of the wider community through supporting the pride round.
“When I think of this round - support, respect and inclusivity comes to the forefront of my mind.”
“Those are the pillars of a family friendly environment. It's a pillar of great culture, great community and I think the fear that some people might have the tentativeness have to come to these sorts of rounds. In my mind that it’s 2023 and we've been doing pride rounds for a few years here (at Adelaide) and I guess times are changing.”
To highlight the inclusivity of the Adelaide Lightning and the WNBL, Whittle shared that there are plenty of relevant activities planned for the Lighting’s two games against the Sydney Flames and the Bendigo Spirit this week.
“We're partnering with the Queer Sporting Alliance (QSA) which is a nationally recognised club that creates a safe sporting environment for anyone within the LGBTQIA+ community and it's trying to create a genderless basketball team or league so there's teams all throughout Australia. We’ll be bringing them in to shed more light on what QSA does and bring more awareness to them and make sure that the community at large is aware of.
“Places where they [people] can play where they can feel supported and safe as well is something we want to highlight, and also on the night, I'm hoping to get some loud music, some good music, and hopefully some family friendly and entertainment as well.”
With the Sydney Flames boasting QSA ambassador Shelley Gorman as their assistant coach, and Whittle’s partner Anneli Maley suiting up for the Spirit, it’s no surprise Marena was excited about the the Lightning’s two games this week.
“Pride is obviously coming to Sydney in 2023, but also Shelley Gorman who is an assistant coach at the Flames is an ambassador for the QSA, but then also Bendigo [Spirit] is the club that I am fond of primarily because my partner [Maley] plays for them. I’m sure her and others would love to support an awesome round like this.
“We looked at this round and we thought Sydney absolutely check and Bendigo why wouldn't I want to celebrate pride with my partner on court? I'm thankful again that Reece [Turner] was supportive of that move.”
The round will also showcase to the public that even with players still going hard at each other on the floor and producing a quality game of basketball – when the game is done a celebration of inclusiveness can still be conducted. Sport, and in this case the WNBL, is a place where people of all backgrounds, gender, race, cultures, and identities and individual preferences can come together and be included in a safe and supportive environment, and importantly be respected.
Whittle explained that she is keen to see all teams celebrate pride across the WNBL, and is not ashamed to take on the mantle as a leading advocate for the league.
“I’m very proud of this round and I’m looking forward to this being a recognised league wide round in the future.
“We want to continue doing a bigger and better job of this every year as possible. Reece [Turner] has been very vocal in how loud he wants this round to be and where he wants to take this round in the future.”
The energy and enthusiasm that ambassador Whittle is infectious. Her drive and passion for this cause is going a long way to unite a community under a common banner.
Of support, respect, and inclusivity…
This story has been supported by the WNBL. Visit their official website wnbl.basketball for all the latest news, fixtures and on how to book tickets.