Netball Australia's financial future has been secured up until the 2026 Commonwealth Games, with the Federal government stepping in to provide funding in the wake of last year's ugly sponsorship row involving Gina Rinehart's Hancock Prospecting. The Australian billionaire's company sensationally pulled out of a $15 million deal with the cash-strapped sport last October, following concerns from Indigenous player Donnell Wallam about wearing the company's logo on her dress.
The ugly saga sparked fears around the future of Netball Australia and its national side, the Diamonds, until the Victorian government stepped in last year with its own $15 million deal. Visit Victoria will support the Diamonds on a deal running to 2027, providing a much-needed boost for the sport which lost $7 million over the last two years due to the Covid pandemic.
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On Thursday, Netball Australia was given a further boost after the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) announced it would top up netball's funding by $9.4 million. Netball Australia boss Kelly Ryan described the new funding as "important" in setting up the Diamonds for success at this year's Netball World Cup, as well as the defence of their 2022 Commonwealth Games gold in Victoria in 2026.
"Netball is the cornerstone of women's sport in Australia and we thank the AIS for investing in the future success of the Australian Diamonds and our high performance program," Ryan said in a statement. "The Diamonds won gold at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, and will this year set out to regain the Netball World Cup.
"This important funding commitment will support netball's continued success leading into Victoria in 2026." The Diamonds have a busy international schedule this year, with a World Cup campaign getting underway in South Africa in late July.
The new deal helps put year's messy sponsorship row between Netball Australia and Hancock to bed, after Wallam had raised concerns about vile historical comments made by Rinehart's late father Lang Hancock in the 1980's about 'sterilising' the Indigenous population. Rinehart and Hancock subsequently withdrew their $15 million and took aim at athletes 'virtue signalling' after the players refused to wear outfits with the company's logo on them.
“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 after pulling their lucrative sponsorship deal. “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.
“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."
Victorian government bails out Netball Australia after messy saga
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 last year's 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. More significant issues arose, however, when Wallam's teammates decided to stand by her, all but forcing Hancock's hand.
The Victorian government then bailed the sport out of its financial predicament with a $15 million agreement of its own. The state's deal will see the Diamonds play international matches and hold training camps in Victoria from 2023 to 2026. Players will also appear in tourism campaigns for Victoria and wear the Visit Victoria branding on their playing uniforms.
As part of the deal, this year's Super Netball grand final will also be held in Victoria after it was staged in Perth in 2022, following a bidding process that saw Western Australia win hosting rights. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews described the Netball Australia sponsorship deal as a "massive coup" for the state when it was announced last year.
“We are the sporting and major events capital of our nation... to be able to have the world’s very best netball team wearing our logo, projecting all that we offer to the world and the rest of the country, is absolutely fantastic,” Mr Andrews said. "Other states wanted this but Victoria secured it."
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