Netball Australia said it was an “absolute priority” to review and resolve any issues raised Diamonds players amid backlash over a new sponsorship partnership with Hancock Prospecting.
But the cash-strapped organization won’t turn its back on Gina Rinehart’s mining company and has stepped up its support for the multibillion-dollar deal announced last month.
The partnership has been controversial, with Indigenous player Donnell Wallam raising concerns about Hancock’s Indigenous record.
The Diamonds appeared in the last two Constellation Cup games in New Zealand without the Hancock logo on their uniforms, prompting speculation that the players had sided with Vallam and staged a boycott that has plunged the sport into crisis.
On Tuesday, NA denied any protests in court and reinforced its support for what it called a “groundbreaking” partnership.
Talks with the playing group are ongoing, but NA admitted the issue remains unresolved ahead of the final two Constellation Cup matches on home soil.
“After becoming aware of the cultural sensitivities raised by a member of the Diamonds team regarding the placement of Hancock’s sponsorship kit logo, Netball Australia and Hancock Prospecting have worked tirelessly to recognize and recognize the sensitive points to better understand this squad member’s concerns and provide opportunities for support,” the statement said.
“Hancock Prospecting met with the Origin Australian Diamonds management team the day after concerns were raised to extend their support and commitment to Netball Australia and to share experiences, understand perspectives and support these cultural features through partnership.”
The playing group remained silent on the matter publicly until captain Liz Watson told the ABC on Tuesday morning that she hoped a decision was imminent.
“As you said, there was a lot going on. Obviously we’re big fans of Hancock, we want to make this partnership work with them,” Watson said.
“Further discussions have just taken place with Netball Australia and them and the players as to when we will wear the dress and when it will happen. I’m sure this will be resolved soon.
“The girls know this is a really big investment in our sport and it will do amazing things for our high performance program. So we appreciate it.
“It’s just working on that fear, as you mentioned, and making sure that everybody — whether you’re in Diamonds or not — [are] very convenient. You want to come into that environment and feel great, and we know that’s going to be addressed and we’re going to hopefully walk out of there wearing that dress.”
NA will facilitate a face-to-face meeting with Hancock Prospecting and the wider playing group in the coming days, but it remains to be seen whether the Diamonds will wear the Hancock logo kit for the games against New Zealand on Wednesday and Sunday this week.
AN president Wendy Archer said there was no obligation to wear the Hancock dress during the Constellation Cup because of additional commitments placed on the AN by the Australian Netball Players Association (ANPA).
“Netball Australia believes it is not in the best interests of the players, the sport or Hancock Prospecting to wear the dress at this time,” she said. “Hancock Prospecting agreed and supported that players were not distracted unnecessarily.”
The deal, worth $15 million over four years, comes to the rescue of the organization after it reported losses of more than $7 million over the past two years.
“Netball Australia has stepped up support for its ground-breaking partnership with Hancock Prospecting,” NA said. “The investment underpins our Australian Diamonds program for future success and enables Netball Australia to build and grow our great game at a community and grassroots level.
“He also emphasized his commitment to continuing to consult with members of the Diamonds playing group on matters relating to the commercial partnership with Hancock Prospecting to reach a resolution in favor of the sport.”
Hancock Prospecting is one of the most significant private investors in Australian sport, working with elite swimming, synchronized swimming, academic rowing and women’s volleyball, as well as making multi-million dollar commitments to the Australian Olympic Committee.