Netball Australia saga: Who has the ball and what is the next play?


Opinion: Claire Braund
To what extent does the Netball Australia Board have to take into consideration vile and racist comments made by a dead billionaire mining magnate more than 30 years ago, when his daughter wants to sponsor the team?


Do his comments preclude his daughter, Gina Rinehart, from sponsoring Australian sports teams and Aboriginal communities and causes?

These are two questions I have been asking myself while reading the social media vitriol and mainstream media articles and comments about the Netball Australia saga.

There is no question that the comments made by Lang Hancock, Gina Rinehart’s late father, in the 1980’s when he said that Indigenous Australians should be sterilised to solve “the problem”, were racist, abhorrent, and totally unacceptable. This is unchallenged and is part of our troubled and violent history when it comes to the impact of white settlement on Aboriginal land. 

When Donnell Wallam, the Diamond’s only Aboriginal player, reportedly told teammates she was uncomfortable wearing the Hancock Prospecting logo (which is understandable), and a number of them took the issue up with management, Hancock Prospecting appeared to take umbrage and pull the pin on the deal via a statement on its website and to the media. 

Clearly there is much more to the story, however, it does seem to be something that could have been resolved in a much better way than it has been. Perhaps Gina Rinehart could have said she does not agree with her father’s comments, or the Netball Australia board could have introduced the partnership with Hancock more appropriately to the players, or the fact that Donnell Wallum made the comments privately could have been respected. 

Either way, the whole thing appears to be a total shambles, with the board of Netball Australia Ltd now left with an $11m debt and no prospect of a $15m sponsor. As a board its primary duty of care is to its members – the eight state and territory netball associations who themselves have many thousands of club and individual members.

A quick look through the Netball Australia Ltd Constitution shows it to be a fairly typical example of a national sporting body with a federated structured. It has a wide range of policies on its website, including those in relation to integrity in sport - anti-doping, gaming, member protection, gender identity etc.

What I could not find was a sponsorship or partnership policy, which is not to say there isn’t one, just that I could not find it easily. The Netball Australia sponsors/ partners are listed as Woolworths, HCF, Nissan, Origin and the Commonwealth Government. We know that the Commonwealth Government has had some appalling policies over the years in relation to Aboriginal people, for which it has apologised, and we do not know about the history of people working with the other companies mentioned when it comes to Aboriginal people.

My point being that Hancock Prospecting has as much right as any other legal entity in Australia to sponsor Netball Australia if all parties agree and it is done in line with the organisation’s Constitution and agreed policies. Central to this is the role of the board and its fundamental duty of care to act in the members best interests.

The fact that Lang Hancock uttered racist, bigoted and hateful words, does not in my view preclude his daughter from sponsoring rowing, swimming, volleyball, the Olympics, the WA Regional Achievements and Community Awards, various Aboriginal organisations and other charities and sports bodies. What it does highlight is the need to ensure that the expectations of sponsor and sponsored are very clear and those impacted (like players) are consulted and engaged in the process. 

It seems to me that this incident, painful as it is to many, is actually an opportunity for Netball Australia and Hancock Prospecting to start a very positive national discussion on how white Australia deals with its history in relation to Aboriginal people and to influence an entire next generation of netballers.

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