Netball Australia boss Kelly Ryan has responded to accusations of virtue signalling from the organisation following the loss of a $15 million sponsorship.
Billionaire Gina Rinehart’s mining company Hancock Prospecting on Saturday pulled the plug on its controversial offering in a major blow to the sport’s financial future.
The deal appeared to be a lifeline after Netball Australia (NA) suffered losses of more than $7 million in two COVID-impacted years.
Hancock had agreed to a $15 million sponsorship deal over four years, due to go directly to the high-performance program
NA and Diamonds skipper Liz Watson both publicly supported the Hancock deal during the week.
But the players’ association have since confirmed their support of Indigenous player Donnell Wallam, who had flagged the company’s record on Indigenous matters dating back 40 years to offensive comments by Rinehart’s late father Lang Hancock.
Roy Hill, majority-owned by Hancock, will withdraw its sponsorship of Netball WA and the West Coast Fever, the companies offering a four-month deal to allow NA and Netball WA time to secure new partners.
“Hancock and its executive chairman Mrs Rinehart consider that it is unnecessary for sports organisations to be used as the vehicle for social or political causes,” a company statement read.
“… there are more targeted and genuine ways to progress social or political causes without virtue signalling or for self-publicity.”
Speaking to Channel Nine on Sunday, Ryan was asked if there was a place for politics in sport.
“Mrs Rinehart’s views are hers and we fully appreciate them,” she said.
“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.
“Both are incredibly important to any organisation; it’s about trying to strike that right balance.”
Ryan said the move was “reasonably concerning” given NA’s financial position.
“We’re acutely aware of where our sport is positioned and doing a huge amount of work behind the scenes to right-size our ship,” she said.
“It’s very disappointing to lose this funding that was going to help accelerate us forward.
“I’m still incredibly confident we have the right plans in place to get the sport to where it needs to be.”
Wallam is poised to make her Matildas debut later this week against England.
Former Wallabies captain and now independent senator David Pocock said Wallam was “so courageous” and represented a modern shift by athletes.
“Before you play your first Test, being willing to actually raise this … I’m really concerned if netball don’t actually take her concerns seriously,” he told the ABC.
“I think the thing to remember when we see athletes actually speak out on issues is that most athletes have grown up dreaming of playing their sport at the highest level representing their country.
“The last thing you want to be doing as an athlete is causing that sort of trouble.”