At almost two metres tall, Marianna Tolo makes an impression. Her impact though, isn’t confined to the basketball court.
One of Australia’s leading basketball players – having played for the Opal’s, the University of Canberra Capitals, and even the WNBA in the United States – Marianna has emerged as an important advocate for a range of social justice issues.
She has called out social injustice within basketball, calling for support and recognition for black and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players. Marianna is also a vocal supporter of the campaign against gender-based violence.
Marianna has built the confidence to use her voice for good and to speak out on issues like these throughout her career. As her status in the basketball community has expanded, so too has her impact.
“Being an advocate for women's sport is something that naturally fell into my lap,” says Marianna.
“I have invested many years into the sport that I love and I can see its worth, but I believe many people are yet to discover this. I get really heartbroken when I see more people at a one-off Hawks game, or a Globetrotters event than a home game, when we regularly have an amazing group of international role models right on our doorstep.”
Marianna led the charge on protesting wage disparity in sport – women have historically earned a fraction of the salaries taken home by their male counterparts. The campaign led to the establishment of a minimum wage for female players.
Utopia for her would be a world where no woman is afraid to voice their concerns when they see injustice.
“It is important for everyone to have a voice, and women have not always been heard. We represent around 50 per cent of the population, so we should have an equal voice.
"I know that the Canberra media has been great at this, and that is part of the reason for the UC Caps success. However, we can always do more.”
The UC Capitals success on the court has translated to record numbers of young women in Canberra taking up the sport. As a three-time WNBL champion, Marianna has been key to the success of the team – both on and off the court.
Personal success for Marianna includes the completion of a Bachelor of Sports, Coaching and Exercise Science at UC.
“I started my degree while at the Australian Institute of Sport in 2007. In 2008 I joined the Capitals, and fortunately I was granted a scholarship for my degree through UC’s connection with Basketball ACT at the time,” she says.
Part of the reason for doing the course was the belief that coupled with her sporting background, the degree would be useful for her future. Marianna’s curiosity also motivated her, with a desire to explore the different disciplines within sport.
“I started my degree with part-time study, only taking one or two subjects which enabled me to juggle basketball, work and uni. It was difficult and I found that time management and communication are very important skills, which I had to develop and utilise. I also had to travel overseas with the Australian team – but thankfully through the Elite Athlete Friendly Network, and with the help of UC and its staff, I was able to complete what was necessary.”
Beginning her degree was daunting at first. Marianna missed her Orientation Week because she was overseas playing basketball.
“Once I found my feet, got to know a few more students and familiarised myself with the facilities, I loved my time there,” she says.
As to how Marianna intends to use her degree post-basketball, there is still time to contemplate the future. But she is thoughtful and readily looks broadly, yet practically, at possible opportunities.
“Right now, I am enjoying being a professional athlete. I have always explored different opportunities while playing,” she says. “I think I will try and play for another four years or so, then see what happens. I might move into coaching or another field entirely. A degree is definitely useful, and I envisage that I will use it in the future.”
For Marianna, the UC experience has been entirely positive and it isn’t over just because she has graduated.
“I haven’t really left – the Capitals are based on the UC campus, so I train there for half the year,” she says.
Marianna’s impact on UC, on basketball, and the wider community can’t be underestimated, as she encourages more women to find their voice. She continues to lead by example.
Words by Tim Gavel, photo: supplied.
In this special 30th anniversary series, UnCover is sharing the inspiring stories of UC staff, students, and alumni.
Know someone with a great story? Send their details to firstname.lastname@example.org.