As many will know with my regular Sunday morning sessions running an eye over the Australian media sports splashes to record #WomenInSport representation – or lack of it – that I am a massive supporter of women’s sport. Unlike a lot of staunch netball fans, I love a variety of sports, though netball is my first love, and the most frustrating one as all too often I feel it doesn’t love me back.
For context... I’m over 50, played back in the day, my daughter played as a child and social as an adult, Hell! My husband started playing mixed in recent years. We, as a family, as in three generations of us, are all inaugural members of our local Suncorp Super Netball team (SSN) and attend every single home game. We also attend Internationals when we have the opportunity, so you can say, we are not ‘casual’ fans.
Sadly, a lot of the problems that I saw in the game running around the courts at Sunnybank back in the day are still current today. We have terrible First Nations participation at the highest level of the sport, in fact, we have pretty terrible representation full stop when it comes to anyone who is not white – often straight – middle class, not privately educated demographic of society. It starts at your local suburban courts and its sad to see anyone who does not fit that straight white middle-class vibe slowly dropping out of the game as they grow older.
There are many reasons for this. Netball is not really cheap to play if you come from a family that doesn’t have spare cash. For some associations, though no-one likes to admit it, the well-meaning volunteers who administer the sport have blinkers on. Independent and Private schools normally have the biggest clubs, therefore supply the most volunteers and inevitably run the associations and like most in Australia, they give more opportunity to those they recognise themselves in. All too often wrapped up in ‘being kind’, though sometimes just being discriminatory.
When I was young and coaching a young team, asked why a particular player – who most acknowledged was best running around in her age group – didn’t make the rep team? Told, in the most condescending way, “Well, yes, we would love to have her on the team, but coming from a family that large and only one parent, well, don’t want to put her in awkward position when most likely can’t afford the trips away”. To my great shame, as a younger person, that sort of made sense to me and I didn’t question further, it seemed ‘kind’.
Over the years, have heard many similar comments, that are couched in well meaning rhetoric in regard to those kids who come from a lower socio-economic demographic.
For First Nations it is too often worse. Not only do many statistically come from that lower socio-economic demographic but you can throw racism into the pot as well. In my day I heard comments along the lines of “the black girls are so athletic but just not reliable” or “great players but too much hard work”.
What is sad, is those comments heard back in the 80’s can still be heard in some way shape or form at many Associations to this day. Don’t get me wrong, some Associations are doing really well in this space and you love to see it, unfortunately there are still many who are not.
Over the weekend I still saw racist comments from a netball mother I know, “OMG! That black girl blew up the sponsorship, they are always so much trouble”, with so many agreeing with her - it was on Facebook of course - it really shows how racist this nation is. What is sad is I know that mother volunteers heaps and most would consider her a ‘lovely woman’ ☹
Also over the years I have seen the likes of my state association and Netball Australia say on the odd occasion (and it is the odd occasion) when racism in the sport is raised that they will investigate, will do better blah blah. So after the can of worms that opened up when Jemma Mi Mi who was the only Indigenous player in SSN – at the time – was left on the bench after being the face of Indigenous round blew up with others also very bravely discussing their experiences of racism in netball in media, the attention meant that Netball Australia could no longer sweep under the carpet.
The result of that controversy was Netball Australia finally admitting they had an issue:
We acknowledge that netball hasn’t fully addressed the barriers that confront Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in our system, and we apologise for this.
As most adults know, you can’t actually address an issue and improve if you don’t acknowledge you have a problem in the first place. This actually gave me a bit of hope that the “Declaration of Commitment” signed off in 2020 by all State Associations and Suncorp Super Netball clubs meant finally, after all these years, that netball would ‘be better’.
After being let down so many times over the years, I felt the ‘Declaration of Commitment’ was probably nothing more than PR to get racism allegations out of the media cycle and my greatest hope was that maybe some clubs might take it seriously and that leadership would flow through their pathways.
Netball Australia’s handling of this situation shows its 2020 declaration of commitment to listen, learn and change by engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People has not progressed beyond the paper it is written on. #netball #FirstNations https://t.co/TZyVTbHo0W— Tracey Holmes (@TraceyLeeHolmes) October 23, 2022
Morally & ethically, netball should be better. Though if morals or ethics are not your thing, commercially they need to be as well. When you look around at the other women’s sports that are gaining prominence in the last 5 years, you can see a hell of a lot more diversity in those sports and they are growing and thriving. Netball is no longer the only woman’s sport of note. In future we will be competing for sponsorship and sports fans eyeballs with NRLW, AFLW, Cricket, Women’s A-League, WNBL and more… Competitions that apart from NRLW (though that will grow), all have more teams and more opportunities for players than netball does. And to be frank, more diversity in the player cohorts.
A young girl running around now playing sport is more likely to see themselves reflected in an AFLW team than the Diamonds or an SSN team.
This is where I see the irony in all of the reporting on the Hancock Prospecting bailing out on Diamonds sponsorship saga playing out in the media. Please be aware, even though I won’t go into the saga itself, enough has been written on that, it must be noted, Hancock Prospecting pulled the funding. It was not the Diamonds who walked away. In fact, the Diamonds, even though reservations had been raised – privately mind you with Netball Australia – they in fact had acquiesced to all the demands of the contract as far as we can tell.
Good Dog! Liz Watson even publicly went on the telly to proclaim their support of Hancock Prospecting.
"We're great supporters of Hancock, we want to make this partnership work... It's about making sure everyone feels comfortable."— Brittany Carter (@_BrittanyCarter) October 17, 2022
Think this is the first time we've heard from someone inside the playing group about the sponsorship deal.#ConstellationCup #netball @BreakfastNews pic.twitter.com/k134a2nLfE
This is what I find ironic. Netball, which has always had an issue with diversity and not treating Indigenous players well, actually did, probably for the very first time.
One of the most important lines in the ‘Netball’s Declaration Of Commitment’ is:
Listen, learn and ensure concerns can be raised and addressed without fear of reprisal
Donnell Wallam, as an Indigenous woman from WA, ‘raised her concerns’ about wearing the name of a man who had famously advocated for pretty much the genocide of her people. Considering Ms Rinehart who runs the company today, was working with her father and 30 at the time those statements were publicly made has never acknowledged or distanced herself from them, well, fair call for Donnell to be uncomfortable.
Her Diamond team mates, ‘listened’. They requested that as they have a ‘Sisters in Arms’ mantra that they all not wear Hancock logo on their dresses for the Roses series – where Donnell is expected to debut – and could then discuss and come to some sort of compromise after the series finished in a few weeks. They had no objections to advertising decals on floors, around stadium etc., something many in media who are flogging this story for their own agendas are conveniently ignoring.
Hancock Prospecting vetoed any exemptions as reported in the Sydney Morning Herald:
…they would not entertain an exemption for Wallam or her teammates on cultural grounds because to do so would amount to an admission the mining company had a problem with its record on Indigenous issues.
This is what I consider important. Donnell should have been able to raise her concerns ‘without fear of reprisal’.
Now Netball Australia can’t affect what a sponsor like Hancock Prospecting will do when issues are raised. They can however back their players. Something I have not seen happen. In fact they have barely mentioned players.
There is no mention of players at all in the Netball Australia press release expressing regret at withdrawal of Hancock Prospecting partnership. In fact, New NA Chair, Wendy Archer AM appeared to be more apologetic to Hancock Prospecting?
We are grateful that Hancock Prospecting continued to stand by our sport throughout the recent turbulence and we regret the impact this has had on the company,” Mrs Archer said.
I get with Hancock still funding for a few months so NA can find another sponsor you would be ‘kind’ in copping the blow, not to mention, is a signal to potential sponsors you are considerate of them, though, would have been nice to see a bit of ‘duty of care’ to their own player group too? Particularly when Diamonds were being demonised all over Australian media as ‘ungrateful brats’?
I can only surmise that the reference to “all parties” included players? 🤷🏼♀️
The only other media response to the saga has been an appearance of Kelly Ryan, CEO of Netball Australia, on channel Nine, who again, appeared to show little support for Diamonds players, with only reference being:
There's an important role that sports organisations do play … to create a safe environment to have really strong social conversations.
But there needs to be a balance in terms of the commercial realities of that, to make sure you continue to invest in the future of your sport.
So we have only seen two official responses from Netball Australia. Neither of them supportive of the Diamonds players – Donnell in particular - and most importantly, not one reference to the ‘Declaration of Commitment’ they are supposed to stand by?
I will admit, I’ve been coming close to giving up on netball. Too many dramas over the years, too many lost opportunities, too much gaslighting of fans, too many instances to name, and it is a feeling many Australian netball tragics who care about the future of the sport would be familiar with.
However the Diamonds players themselves have renewed my faith in the sport.
They did LISTEN to their Indigenous team mate.
The did SUPPORT their Indigenous team mate.
They proved to me, a wavering fan, that they could “Listen and Learn” and that gives me hope for the future. These women may be athletes running around a court at the moment but I hope some of them will be part of the future of the game. They made a safe space where Donnell could bravely raise her concerns and proved they themselves had not only read “Netball’s Declaration Of Commitment” but had taken it to heart and were acting on it.
Please view video on this article and listen to Australian Diamond and President of the Australian Netball Players Association (ANPA) Jo Weston.
In a saga where not many have covered themselves in much glory, from Netball Australia administration, to Hancock Prospecting to segments of Australian media and even some conservative politicians who endeavoured to push their own agendas regardless of the facts of the issue, it was heartening to see the Diamonds WALK THE TALK!
Let’s hope some others in positions of leadership reflect on that.
The Diamonds are not only elite athletes with a culture of excellence but importantly, in my eyes, women of calibre and integrity. Sponsors should be knocking down the door to be associated with these women.
And Donnell... What can I say? So much admiration for you! All power and love to you and can't wait to see you make your debut 💜
Maddy T and Maddy P return along with England Series skipper Paige, while Donnell Wallam has been named in her first Diamonds team! pic.twitter.com/OpPj4WflqD— Origin Australian Diamonds (@AussieDiamonds) October 25, 2022
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