Netball Australia has said it is an “absolute priority” to address and resolve any concerns raised by Diamonds players amid a backlash over a new sponsorship partnership with Hancock Prospecting.
But the cash-strapped organisation will not turn its back on Gina Rinehart’s mining company and reinforced its support for the multimillion-dollar deal announced last month.
The partnership has caused controversy, with Indigenous player Donnell Wallam reported to have raised concerns over Hancock’s record on Indigenous issues.
The Diamonds appeared in two recent Constellation Cup games in New Zealand without Hancock’s logo on their uniforms, prompting speculation the players had sided with Wallam and staged a boycott, plunging the sport into a crisis.
NA on Tuesday refuted any on-court protest had been made and reinforced its support for what it labelled a “groundbreaking” partnership.
Talks with the playing group are ongoing, but NA conceded the matter remains unresolved ahead of the final two matches of the Constellation Cup on home soil.
“Since becoming aware of cultural sensitivities raised by a Diamonds squad member in respect of the Hancock sponsorship uniform logo placement, Netball Australia and Hancock Prospecting have been working tirelessly to acknowledge and recognise the sensitivities, to further understand the concerns of that squad member and to provide avenues for support,” the statement said.
“Hancock Prospecting met with the Origin Australian Diamonds leadership group the day after the concerns were raised to extend its support and commitment to Netball Australia and to share experiences, understand perspectives and support these cultural sensitivities through the partnership.”
The playing group had remained silent on the matter in public until the captain, Liz Watson, told the ABC on Tuesday morning that she was hopeful a resolution was imminent.
“Like you said there has been a lot going on. Obviously we’re great supporters of Hancock, we want to make this partnership work with them,” Watson said.
“There’s just been further discussions with Netball Australia, them and the players across when we’re going to wear the dress and when that will happen. I’m confident it is going to resolve really soon.
“The girls know that this is a really big investment in our sport and it’s going to do amazing things for our high performance program. So we appreciate that.
“It’s just working through those angst, like you mentioned, and making sure that everyone – whether you’re in the Diamonds or not – [are] very comfortable. You want to come into this environment and feel great and we know this will be resolved and we’ll hopefully get out there with that dress on.”
NA will facilitate a face-to-face meeting with Hancock Prospecting and the broader playing group in the coming days but it remains to be seen whether the Diamonds will wear a uniform with a Hancock logo on it for the games against New Zealand on Wednesday and Sunday this week.
The NA chair, Wendy Archer, said there was no obligation to wear the Hancock dress during the Constellation Cup due to additional obligations placed on NA by the Australian Netball Players Association (ANPA).
“Netball Australia believed that it was not in the best interests of the players, the sport or Hancock Prospecting to wear the dress at this time,” she said. “Hancock Prospecting has been accommodating and supportive of ensuring that players are not unnecessarily distracted.”
The deal, worth $15m over four years, has come to the aid of the organisation after it announced losses of more than $7m over the past two years.
“Netball Australia has reinforced its support of its groundbreaking 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.
“It has also emphasised its commitment to continuing to consult with members of the Diamonds playing group on matters relating to its commercial partnership with Hancock Prospecting to reach a resolution to the benefit of the sport.”
Hancock Prospecting is one of the most significant private investors in Australian sport, partnering with elite level swimming, synchronised swimming, rowing and women’s volleyball, as well as making a multimillion-dollar commitment to the Australian Olympic Committee.