Netball Australia chair steps down amid $15 million sponsorship furore

Marina Go, pictured here alongside Australia's netball players.
Marina Go has stepped down as chair of Netball Australia. Image: AAP/Getty

Marina Go has stepped down as chair of Netball Australia amid a $15 million sponsorship storm engulfing the national team.

The Diamonds have been rocked by a week of on-court defeats and off-court controversy, heading home on the brink of losing a second-straight Constellation Cup for the first time.

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The on-court dramas have been exacerbated by controversy around a new partnership with Hancock Prospecting, the mining company of billionaire Gina Rinehart.

Hancock has agreed to a four-year, $15 million sponsorship deal with the cash-strapped governing body, with Netball Australia suffering losses of more than $7 million over the last two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

But Diamonds players are reportedly refusing to wear new uniforms with the logo of the sponsor and siding with squad member Donnell Wallam, who has raised concerns over the company's record on Indigenous matters.

The saga took a fresh twist on Monday when the governing body announced that Go was stepping down effective immediately, but stressed it was as part of a 'planned transition' to bring in Wendy Archer.

“I am truly passionate about netball, and it has been an honour and a privilege to serve this sport over many years in my capacity as non-executive director of Netball Australia, chair of the Super Netball Commission and in May 2021, when I took on the role of chair of the new Netball Australia Board,” Go said in a statement on Monday morning.

“I am proud of the position Netball Australia is now in – we have made strong progress on the financial stability of the sport, have secured significant new commercial partners and are continuing to identify and build new opportunities to secure a strong future for the sport, our players and our fans.

“In light of the time commitments of the role of chair, I have chosen to step aside as originally planned, however I will continue to represent the sport as a director of the Board and through that role will continue my support for CEO Kelly Ryan and her team. I want to congratulate Wendy on her appointment. Wendy has netball in her veins and is the right person to lead the sport now.

“My thanks to all of those who have worked hard to support the sport, and me personally, during my term as chair – my fellow directors, our players and coaching staff, the Netball Australia executive leadership team and staff, the state associations and Suncorp Super Netball clubs, our commercial and broadcast partners, and every club member and volunteer who support the sport in our communities.”

Diamonds players, pictured here in action against New Zealand at the Constellation Cup.
Diamonds players in action against New Zealand at the Constellation Cup. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Netball Australia rocked by sponsorship storm

The Diamonds will play their first home Tests since 2019 when the Constellation Cup concludes in Melbourne on Wednesday and the Gold Coast on Sunday.

After losing the opening two matches to a sharper and more precise Silver Ferns outfit, the Diamonds need two strong wins to claim back the trophy.

But off the court, Netball Australia also needs to address a ruction between the players and the sport's managers.

Former Diamonds captain Sharni Norder (nee Layton) also opposes the sponsorship due to Rinehart's climate record, and spoke to the team in the build-up to this series.

“This is a company that doesn’t suit Netball Australia’s values," said Norder, a Sports Environment Alliance ambassador.

Gina Rinehart, pictured here at the 2018 Australia Swimming national trials.
Gina Rinehart at the 2018 Australia Swimming national trials. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

“We’ve always stood up for social justice, we’ve always been anti-gambling, no smoking … and there were, and are, other avenues to source sponsorship.

“Lang Hancock’s past and what he said in regard to Indigenous people is just not suitable for Australian sport. Netball Australia has always tried to be inclusive... we now have Donnell (Wallam) in the team.

“This is not a respectful way to act and even if Donnell wasn’t in the team, we must do better."

As of Sunday night, the Diamonds had not publicly addressed the spat beyond a written statement acknowledging the need to work through "certain sensitivities".

Netball Australia says the issue will be resolved at the end of the series.

Rinehart and Hancock also sponsor the Australian Olympic Committee, Volleyball Australia, Rowing Australia, Synchronised Swimming Australia and Swimming Western Australia - all of whom are likely to be watching this episode closely.

with AAP

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