When Ashleigh Elletson turned 13 last year and moved up to a competitive grade of netball, she was told she had to wear a dress.

“I didn’t really want to, so for the first little bit I just wore a regular polo, but eventually I was told I would have to wear a dress so I missed a game,” she said.

The Mid South East Netball Association she plays in made an exception for her, so she returned to the court for Kongorong.

“I didn’t really feel comfortable wearing a dress,” Ashleigh said.

“I don’t really wear like dresses or skirts like ever; I just prefer to wear T-shirts and shorts, I don’t know why.”

Good for recruitment

Now, the Mid South East Netball Association, based around the South Australian town of Millicent, has become one of the first leagues in a regional area to adopt an inclusive uniform policy.

It will follow guidelines put out by Netball Australia just over a year ago allowing players to wear shorts or leggings instead of a dress or a skirt, as long as the club’s design is approved by the association and does not include zips or pockets.

Netballers have traditionally worn dresses or skirts in competition.(ABC South East SA: Sam Bradbrook)

“We will hopefully gain some more players that might not have been confident stepping out in a dress,” association president Sara Gray said.

“We do have a couple of younger players now who we’ve adapted some uniforms for last year so hopefully this just gives everyone a little bit more of an idea of what they can do.”

The move was helped along by Ashleigh’s father, Tony Elletson, who┬áis the connected and active communities officer for the Limestone Coast Local Government Association and the South Australian government’s Office of Sport and Recreation.

“To the league executive’s credit, they were great,” Mr Elletson said.

“They said straight away, ‘We want to make this inclusive, we want to make sure everyone can play’ and even last year when we went to the league and said, ‘This is the situation with Ashleigh’, they were really supportive.

“So full credit to them, because it’s not an easy thing to change.

“There will be people who always want to keep things the way they are, but they were really forward-thinking and made the changes really quickly.”

Tony Elletson is glad his daughter Ashleigh will feel comfortable playing netball.(ABC South East SA: Eugene Boisvert)

Others may follow

Mr Elletson was hopeful other associations in country South Australia would follow the Mid South East’s lead.

“Talking to a few of the ladies who have played netball for a while but feel uncomfortable wearing a dress as they get older … and have never really comfortable wearing it, there’s some excitement around that as well,” he said.

“It’s a real opportunity for everyone now to be able to play without worrying about what they look like.”

Rochelle Eime says voices of young people need to be heard.(Supplied: Rochelle Eime)

Rochelle Eime, a professor of sport science at Federation University in Ballarat who studies community sport participation, said it could take five to 10 years for netball associations to follow Netball Australia’s recommendation to adopt inclusive uniform policies.

“We need to move with the times and not be so hell-bent on traditions,” she said.

“We want to make things more accessible, and the more ways we can make people more comfortable in playing sport, the better.”

Netball Australia’s inclusive uniform policy also allows players to wear head coverings for religious reasons if they are made of a soft material.

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