Growing up, two sports touched my soul and helped me figure out the kind of person I wanted to be. The first of which was tennis, which I played for seven years. The other was basketball, which changed my life in only two years. These two sports are still a huge part of my life, and there isn’t a day that goes by without me talking about a basketball game that I saw or mentioning how much I love a certain tennis player. So the interview you are about to read was a really special one for me. It took us a while to arrange it and meet up, but I am so glad it happened.
Last week I met up with UEA Women’s Basketball team’s President Giulia Corsetti Antonini. Months ago I contacted her for another article, but based on the answers she gave I thought there were a lot more questions I could ask her about the team and basketball in general. As a person who spends so much time watching and talking about sports, I really enjoyed the conversation with Antonini. It wasn’t only about basketball and the team; we also discussed tennis, netball, our own sports careers, and in the end she convinced me to go to an open session and play basketball again.
Antonini didn’t start playing basketball at UEA, in fact, her love of basketball goes way back. She said her dad and brother used to play basketball and that when she was five she ‘was this little male girl who just wanted to be like her brother’, so she started playing with him. Throughout her life, she played in many teams in different countries, including America, which is where she went to boarding school. However, there were many times in her life where she had to stop playing for a while for several reasons. She tells the story of how she joined the team at UEA, ‘I didn’t even go to try outs, because I was thinking, ‘What if they are better than me, I don’t want to go, it is a lot of pressure.’ So I went the week after, and didn’t even look at anyone because I was shy, went to the other side of the court and started shooting by myself. And then the coach approached me saying, ‘Who are you?’ And he just put me in the team. It was the best decision ever.’
While talking about the season in general, she sounded positive. She described the ongoing season as, ‘good but bad’; mainly because they are competing in several leagues with two different teams, so they perform differently in each league. ‘In BUCS we just moved up from Division II to Division I, and the difference is massive. We have gone from winning every game last year, to losing every game this year. The preparation of the other teams is incredible, and we have a whole new team. Me and the other 2-3 girls are the only ones left from last year. It is a whole new team and everybody has to learn how to play with each other.’
Apart from BUCS, in the local league they are on top and Antonini says it is going great. This year they also created a second team with mostly girls who have never played basketball before. She says, ‘they have been losing, but also improving quite a lot. They’ve gone up from scoring 10 points a game to scoring 30.’ In general this year is all about development and improvement for the women’s basketball team, and they sound happy about their performance.
Even though they couldn’t reach their goal of staying in Division I next year, when I asked Antonini whether these results were affecting the atmosphere within the team she said, ‘We keep losing in BUCS but at the same time we don’t let ourselves down. We lose on BUCS but we win on local league. So it’s not like we lose all the time. We don’t let ourselves down, because we know that those teams are not completely new like us. So we focus on what we achieved, not on losing a game. We know that we have given everything we could and that’s what matters. Next year we are not going to lose anymore.’
When I asked her about Derby Day she said that they are still focusing on their league games, so they are not thinking that far ahead yet. For them, Derby Day is for having fun and enjoying themselves. I also wanted to know if she felt under pressure on Derby Day, and I was a bit surprised by her answer because she said yes. ‘I feel under pressure for Derby Day, because there are more people watching you. We don’t usually get a lot of people supporting us. But Derby Day is so crowded.’
Talking about the support they get and basketball in general, I wanted to ask her how it feels to do a sport that is mostly associated with males. During the time I played basketball and based on my own observations, most people see basketball as a men’s sport and say the women’s part is not interesting to them. I am so glad that Antonini responded in a way that truly showed how she felt. ‘It is a bit sad, because you do the same things. You put as much effort and time as they do. They also play in the BUCS and the local team. Just like we do. And then you go to our games and the only people supporting is couple of friends and the second team; sometimes the guys come to support us. Then you go to their game and there are so many people. It is a bit discouraging.’
Antonini said a sentence that actually disappointed me. While describing how people view males and females’ basketball she said, ‘With guys, they feel like it is more important, it feels more like a sports to them. While with the girls it feels more like an activity. Whereas with guys, they think that it is an actual match, a competition. I am used to it.’ The fact that she said ‘I am used to it’ was the sad part, because I know a lot of people, including me,that are used to this fact. We continued our chat talking about what the university can do in terms of publicity and how we can change this perception.
She also mentioned that last week during their game they played next to netball and had noticed that people showing up to support netball were also watching their game and they looked like they were enjoying it. ‘If you don’t go for the first time to watch a women’s basketball game, you don’t realise that it is pretty much the same.’ When we talked about how they can improve their publicity, Antonini said they tried anything they could. Creating events for every game they have, posting to group chats, Facebook pages etc. Also, UEA Sport is making posts about all the teams on their Instagram page as well.
‘We had a really important game before Christmas that determined if we moved back to Division II or stayed in Division I and it was one of the only games that we could have won, because the other team was not as good as the others. We promoted it so much and only five people turned up.’ She feels like their games are being ignored and when we started listing possible reasons for that, we even thought about the seating and other aspects. But then we remembered that the male team’s games are always full, so it has nothing to do with the seating or the location.
Lastly, at the end of our conversation she added something that everyone should read and remember. ‘If people don’t start giving attention to a university club, where do they even start? University is a place where everybody is equal and it should start from here.’ Our recorded conversation ended here, with a lot of question on our minds. But then we continued talking about how we used to play a lot of sports and how it helped us grow up and be more mature. In general, I feel like the Women’s Basketball team, along with all sports teams, deserve the support of everyone because they work hard and put in so much effort. I hope this article and interview can act as a starting point for us all to create time to go and support our teams.
(NOTE: There are open sessions every Friday at 6:20 at Sportspark Hall 2, if you want to try playing basketball. No previous experience or knowledge is required, you can simply go and enjoy it).