Netball Australia players boss makes bombshell claim in $15m furore

Gina Rinehart is pictured left, and the Australian Diamonds lined up on the right.
Netball Australia and Hancock Prospecting, owned by Gina Rinehart, had a $15 million sponsorship deal collapse amid concerns raised by Diamonds players. Pictures: Getty Images

Diamonds players made several offers to Netball Australia in an effort to reach a compromise on the recently abandoned $15 million sponsorship deal with Hancock Prospecting, the head of the players' association says.

Kathryn Harby-Williams, the CEO of Netball Australia's Players' Association, says there was a lack of mediation between players and the governing body after concerns were raised about the deal with the Western Australian mining company.

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Players stood by Donnell Wallem, the third Indigenous player in the Diamonds' history, after she held reservations about bearing the company's logo.

Harby-Williams, a former captain of the Diamonds, said it was 'disappointing' discussions with Netball Australia had broken down and Hancock Prospecting had walked away from the sponsorship deal.

Hancock Prospecting is owned by Gina Rinehart, daughter of the company's founder, Lang Hancock.

Comments made by Lancock in the 1980s, in which he suggested Indigenous people should 'breed themselves out' in future are believed to be central to Wallem and the rest of the players' concerns.

Nevertheless, Harby-Williams said players were willing to wear the logo under certain circumstances.

“It’s been a shock, obviously everyone is extremely disappointed but I think we need to clarify here the players' position has always been that they were prepared to wear the logo during the Constellation Cup,” Harby-Williams told ABC Grandstand.

“We had come to an agreement with Netball Australia where everyone was comfortable that would happen and that Donnell and the players would not be required to wear the logo against England in the three-match series starting shortly.

“At no point in time did the players seek to have the deal fall off the table but we were certainly willing to come to a compromise and had agreed to that shortly after the players stood by Donnell.”

Via a statement released on Saturday, Hancock Prospecting announced it was withdrawing from the sponsorship deal.

The statement claimed Hancock Prospecting had 'not been made aware' of the concerns raised by players and did not want to add to 'disunity' in netball.

Players willing to compromise in Netball Australia sponsorship controversy

Harby-Williams said it was a let down that players had made it clear their priority was simply to get on the court, with Wallem being exempted from wearing the logo tabled.

Wallem was even willing to wear the uniform in order to get the three-match series against England underway, but by this time the offer had been withdrawn.

“Donnell sought an exemption for herself and that wasn’t forthcoming because there was a meeting where it was made very clear that no exemptions would given to any player,” Harby-Williams said.

“That was a disappointing moment because the players thought at the very least that an exemption might be given for Donnell at that point in time.

“And that’s fundamentally what it came down to in the end, an Indigenous player, our first in almost 25 years, only our third in history, was seeking an exemption for just three games so that she could focus on her debut and then we could get to the table to sort it after the England series.”

Donnell Wallam is pictured warming up for a Super Netball match.
Donnell Wallam was ultimately willing to wear a Diamonds uniform with a Hancock Prospecting logo if it meant easing the burgeoning controversy. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

Netball Australia said they were 'disappointed' after the withdrawal of Hancock Prospecting's offer.

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.

In the midst of the furore, the Diamonds let their game do the talking on the court by reclaiming the Constellation Cup.

Faced with an 0-2 series deficit, the Diamonds became the first squad in competition history to win from such a position when they triumphed in the deciding game four on Sunday evening.

Thanks to a decisive win in Melbourne last week, the Diamonds needed a win to claim the trophy on countback.

That they did against New Zealand, digging deep to register a 57-53 win.

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