London flights spark gender debate

BRISBANE, Australia -- Sports governing bodies from Japan and Australia are under fire after 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 soccer team took exception to flying economy while their male counterparts sat in business class on a flight to Europe for the Olympics. The Japan Football Association said the men flew in business because they are professionals.

The women's team was assigned seats in premium economy for the 13-hour flight to Paris while the nation's under-23 men's team was up front on the same flight.

"It should have been the other way around," 2011 FIFA women's world player of the year Homare Sawa told Japanese media after arriving in the French capital. "Even just in terms of age we are senior."

Basketball Australia says it will review its travel policy for national teams after complaints that the men flew business class to the Olympics while most of the women sat in premium economy.

The women's team is by far the most successful of the two, having won silver medals at the last three Olympics. The men, who will be led in London by San Antonio Spurs point guard Patty Mills, have never won an Olympic medal.

On Friday, the sport's national governing body said it would "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 Opals' most-famous player, though, was not in economy: Seattle WNBA star Lauren Jackson was in first class because she is an "ambassador" with the airline involved. And another WNBA player, Liz Cambage, paid to upgrade herself to business class.

In a statement Friday, Basketball Australia acting chief executive Scott Derwin said the "policy around budgets for each national team gives the leadership group of those teams some discretion over how their funds are spent -- and that includes travel arrangements.

"We should bear in mind that in fact, historically, more funding has been directed towards the Opals. But the simple fact is when a policy results in gender inequality, it's very clearly not the right policy."

Incoming BA chief executive Kristina Keneally, a former state political leader of New South Wales, will start in her new role on Aug. 4. She said Friday she 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," Keneally said. "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 Australian Olympic Committee provides return 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."