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Netball chair abruptly quits amid sponsorship row

Australia's Constellation Cup campaign has been marred by controversy and losing form.

Australia's Constellation Cup campaign has been marred by controversy and losing form. Photo: Getty

The chair of Netball Australia has abruptly quit, amid a worsening split in the sport over a controversial $15 million sponsorship.

Marina Go stepped down on Monday, effectively immediately.

She has been replaced by fellow board member Wendy Archer, who has been a director of Netball Australia since 2018, in what the organisation described as a “planned transition”.

Ms Go, who was appointed as the inaugural chair of the newly-formed NA board in May 2021, will remain a director.

But her sudden departure as chair on Monday came as players and management of Australia’s national netball team closed ranks after a week of on-court defeats and off-court controversy.

Diamonds players and netball management are locked in an escalating dispute over a lucrative agreement with Hancock Prospecting.

Cash-strapped Netball Australia, which has has lost more than $7 million in the past two COVID-impacted years, has signed a four-year $15 million sponsorship deal with Hancock, the mining company of billionaire Gina Rinehart.

But Diamonds players are reportedly boycotting uniforms with the Hancock logo. They are siding with squad member Donnell Wallam, who has raised concerns with the company’s record on Indigenous issues.

Former Diamonds captain Sharni Norder (nee Layton) also opposes the sponsorship due to Ms Rinehart’s climate record.

Norder spoke to the team in the build-up to the Constellation Cup series. She told Fox Sports she advised the players about how to approach the dispute.

“I did a Zoom [call] with the players just to educate them on doing right by the sport but also doing right by yourself and honouring your own values,” Norder said.

“I just wanted to have a conversation – is that money worth your reputation and what you stand for as a person?

“Just so they are making good decisions for themselves, because they represent the clubs and our country but also themselves.”

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

Players and team management closed ranks as they returned to Australia on Monday from a Constellation Cup loss in New Zealand.

Coach Stacey Marinkovich and the rest of the Diamonds headed for Melbourne, where they will play their first home Test since 2019 on Wednesday. The third and final Constellation Cup match is scheduled for the Gold Coast on Sunday.

While players are showing solidarity, the situation has been marked by poor communication between the sport’s management and its stars.

Netball Australia media manager Georgina Cahill declined access to Marinkovich after Sunday’s game in New Zealand, and said captain Liz Watson would address media on Tuesday.

The issue was touched on only briefly by Kiwi journalists after New Zealand’s 52-48 win in Tauranga on Sunday. The Diamonds wore an old strip for the match, minus the Hancock logo.

Marinkovich was asked in her post-match press conference whether she had been able to maintain focus in the lead-up.

“When we’re together as a group, it’s all about high performance,” she said.

“It’s about improvement. It’s about our game plan. It’s about our connections and culture.

“I’m really pleased with how we’re able to be in our little bubble and able to focus on what we need to do out on court.”

The controversy could yet spill over into other sports.

Ms Rinehart and Hancock 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.

In the centre of the storm, the Diamonds also have a trophy to win, and netball-starved fans that need re-introducing to their national team.

“We haven’t [played at] home for over 1000 days, so we’re very excited to be in front of our home crowd,” Marinkovich said.

“As coach, I haven’t actually coached Australia on home soil. There’s a lot of girls that haven’t even played in front of their family and friends.

“Playing at home is a huge advantage … it’ll be nice to be in a normal routine.”

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

-with AAP

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