Gina Rinehart's brutal swipe at Netball Australia 'virtue signalling'

Gina Rinehart, pictured here alongside the Australian Diamonds.
Gina Rinehart's Hancock Prospecting has withdrawn a $15 million sponsorship deal with Netball Australia. Image: Getty

The Gina Rinehart-owned Hancock Prospecting has blasted Netball Australia's 'virtue signalling' in a withering statement after pulling the pin on a $15 million sponsorship deal.

Hancock Prospecting had agreed to a four-year deal with Netball Australia, who suffered losses of $7 million over the last two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

'LOW IQ': Sam Newman blasts athletes amid sponsorship furore

SHOCK MOVE: Netball Australia chair steps down amid $15m storm

The $15 million was due to go directly to the high-performance program and appeared to be a lifeline for the cash-strapped sport.

However the deal caused controversy within the Diamonds team, with Indigenous player Donnell Wallam raising concerns over the company's record on Indigenous matters, which date back 40 years to offensive comments by Rinehart's late father Lang Hancock.

It prompted a week of turmoil and while Netball Australia and Diamonds captain Liz Watson both stressed their support for the Hancock deal, the mining company pulled out of the sponsorship deal on Saturday.

"Hancock and Roy Hill do not wish to add to Netball's disunity problems, and accordingly Hancock has advised Netball Australia that it has withdrawn from its proposed partnership effective immediately," Hancock said in a statement.

In a follow-up statement, Hancock took aim at Netball Australia's 'virtue signalling'.

“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," the company said.

“Firstly, because sport is at its best when it is focused on good and fair competition, with dedicated athletes striving for excellence to achieve their sporting dreams and to represent our country at their very best.

“Secondly, because there are more targeted and genuine ways to progress social or political causes without virtue signalling or for self-publicity. For example, the meaningful engagement with local Indigenous communities undertaken by Hancock’s Roy Hill Community Foundation in West Australia to support their actual needs.

Australian Diamonds players, pictured here after their win over New Zealand in the Constellation Cup.
Australian Diamonds players celebrate their win over New Zealand in the Constellation Cup. (Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

“Thirdly, because there are more impactful means to make a beneficial difference. For example, Hancock’s holistic support for real programs including Hanrine Futures - that are providing a true pathway for Indigenous students through education and into employment where they are guaranteed a job should they wish, at the end of their training.

“The reality is that sponsorship is integral to sports organisations - for full-time professionals right through to young children at the grassroots level - who rely on corporations investing the funds that enable all sports to not only survive, but thrive."

The mining company said it hadn't insisted the Diamonds wear their branding, and was confident players had supported the sponsorship.

The Hancock logo had been expected to feature on the Diamonds' uniforms throughout the current Constellation Cup series against New Zealand, but ultimately only featured on a press conference background banner in Melbourne.

Wallam was reportedly considering seeking an exemption from wearing the sponsor's logo, as athletes in other sports have done when a sponsor doesn't align with their beliefs or religion.

But the issue flared when Wallam's teammates wanted to stand with her.

Netball Australia responds to sponsorship storm

Netball Australia chief executive Kelly Ryan lamented the withdrawal of the sponsorship on Saturday evening, with Roy Hill (majority-owned by Hancock) also withdrawing its sponsorship of Netball WA and the West Coast Fever.

"We acknowledge the difficulties and impact of recent discussions and are disappointed to see them withdraw the partnership," Ryan said in a statement.

"This is a loss for our whole sport, from grassroots through to the elite program.

"Netball Australia is a strong, resilient organisation and we will continue working around the clock to secure the future of the sport and explore all opportunities that are available."

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

Diamonds players expressed their disappointment with the mining company's decision, but rejected reports they were protesting on environmental grounds.

In a statement posted to Twitter by defender and Australian Netball Players' Association president Jo Weston, the Diamonds said they were supporting Wallam.

"Reports of a protest on the part of the players, on environmental grounds and a split within the playing group are incorrect," the statement said.

"The singular issue of concern to the players was one of support for our only Indigenous team member.

"We are fully committed to the Diamonds' Sisters in Arms legacy and the values this represents, alongside Australian Netball's Declaration of Commitment."

with AAP

Click here to sign up to our newsletter for all the latest and breaking stories from Australia and around the world.