Netball Australia boss says sport needs to balance ‘social conversations’ with ‘commercial realities’ | netball

Netball Australia boss Kelly Ryan has responded to allegations that the organization is signaling virtue after losing a $15m sponsorship.

Billionaire Gina Rinehart’s mining company Hancock Prospecting pulled the plug on its controversial bid on Saturday, in a blow that dealt a serious blow to the financial future of the sport.

The deal appeared to be a lifeline after NA suffered losses of more than $7 million in two Covid-hit years.

Hancock had agreed to a four-year, $15 million sponsorship deal that would go straight into the high-performance program. NA and Diamonds skipper Liz Watson publicly supported the Hancock deal during the week.

But the players’ association has since confirmed its support for Indigenous player Donnell Wallam, who flagged the company’s 40-year-old record on Indigenous issues due to offensive comments made by Rinehart’s late father, Lang Hancock.

Roy Hill, which is majority-owned by Hancock, will withdraw its sponsorship from Netball WA and West Coast Fever, the companies that are offering a four-month deal to give NA and Netball WA time to find new partners.

“Hancock and his CEO Ms. Rinehart believe it is unnecessary for sports organizations to be used as a vehicle for social or political gain,” the company said in a statement.

“…there are more purposeful and authentic ways to advance social or political causes without showing virtue or making oneself known.”

Speaking to the Nine Network on Sunday, Ryan was asked if politics had a place in sport.

“Mrs Rinehart’s views are hers and we fully appreciate them,” she said. “There’s an important role that sports organizations play … to create a safe environment where really strong social conversations can take place.

“But there has to be a balance in terms of commercial realities to ensure you continue to invest in the future of your sport. Both are incredibly important to any organization; It’s about finding the right balance.”

Ryan said the move was “quite concerning” given NA’s financial position.

“We are very aware of where our sport is positioned and are working tremendously behind the scenes to get our ship right sized,” she said. “It is very disappointing to lose this funding which should help move us forward.

“I remain incredibly confident that we have the right plans in place to get the sport where it belongs.”

Wallam is ready to make her Diamonds debut against England later this week.

Former Wallabies captain and now Independent Senator David Pocock said Wallam was “so brave” and represented a modern shift in athletes.

“Before you play your first Test, to be ready to actually address this… I’m really concerned if Netball doesn’t really take their concerns seriously,” he told the ABC.

“I think when we see athletes actually speaking out on issues, we should remember that most athletes grew up dreaming of playing their sport at the highest level and representing their country. The last thing you want to do as an athlete is cause problems like this.”

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