Netball Scoop: Their conscience should be our conscience

Netball Scoop: Their conscience should be our conscience

By |2022-10-26T13:42:52+10:00October 26th, 2022|Categories: AUS, Featured|Tags: |0 Comments

In a television interview released in 1984, the now deceased businessman Lang Hancock proposed genocide.

In his view, sections of Australia’s Indigenous population should be bred out of existence, an act so unimaginable that it bears some resemblance to the Holocaust, the killing fields of Cambodia, and the Rwandan massacres. While such mass slaughters happened several generations ago, our world hasn’t forgotten those atrocities, and nor should we. They are reminders of some of the darkest moments that humans inflict on each other, and conversely, we take great heart from the incredible stories of survivors, and those who fought against such evils.  

When the story first broke that Netball Australia’s proposed sponsorship by Hancock Prospecting – the company Lang founded – was in trouble, rumours swirled about athlete objections due to climate change, environmental issues, mining and racism. With misinformation and inaccurate reporting creating a toxic brew, the netballers were labelled by many as ‘woke’, ‘entitled’ and ‘ungrateful’. A common theme shared was that they should be thankful for such support, take the money and shut up. 

Sadly, the mixed messaging sullied the key issue at the heart of the matter – an Indigenous athlete privately expressing her concern about wearing the name of the very person who’d publicly condemned some of her people to extinction. Like so many here in Australia, and in previous times and other parts of the world, she wore her outrage quietly, but ultimately needed to share her views. 

And in the muddied waters surrounding the row, that is what’s been overlooked by so many. A young Noongar woman’s courage and strength in speaking up for her people, and the solidarity of the teammates who stood by her side. Such acts should be applauded as not only essential but conscientious, rather than condemned despite the resulting financial blow to netball. 

There’s no doubt that cost is great – the ensuing loss of the $17 million dollar sponsorship ($15 million dollars for the national team, and $2 million dollars for West Coast Fever) for a struggling sport is significant. With reported debts of more than $11 million dollars, it’s understandable that Netball Australia would have initially looked upon the Hancock Prospecting funds as a godsend. 

There’s also little doubt that miners have a complex relationship with Australians, and particularly those who live rurally or remotely in the mining heartlands of Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory. It complicated the issue at hand, because while the source of those funds, and land rights, is a whole separate debate, many people would struggle otherwise. 

Mining pours money, in the form of royalties and donations, into communities that state and federal governments should, but don’t, support. From providing for families of our armed forces, to breast care buses for rural women, sponsoring the Royal Flying Doctor Service, rescue helicopters and surf rescue, to the numerous Indigenous health, education and employment programmes, multiple sports and even climate change think tanks, enormous amounts of funds flow into places where governments don’t tread. 

However, money can’t buy silence, and shouldn’t buy integrity, whether that’s in sport or the wider community.

And so the urgent need for netball funding and the undoubted good that mining funds do, versus the need to speak up for her people, would have heaped pressure on the one woman who should have been least impacted by it. Not only was she on the verge of debuting for her country, but in 2020, Netball Australia and its member organisations signed a Declaration of Commitment, to ‘listen, learn and engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’, in order to break down barriers that prevent their participation in sport. 

What has emerged over the last ten days appears to be an ongoing mess. Stories of communication issues between Netball Australia, the Australian Netball Players Association, the athletes, and Hancock Prospecting are rife and varied. Some elements of the media and social media, many of whom have never previously engaged with netball, have contributed to an exhausting and divisive debate that’s left few Australians sitting on the fence. 

For the people and parties at the heart of the row, matters should have been discussed beforehand and behind closed doors, and hopefully resolved in some manner, without playing out in public. Not one of them, or indeed netball itself, needed the troubled silence from some – nothing to see here! –  or the rumours and hurtful comments from others.

While people have been very quick to share blame around, none of it should fall on the athlete most impacted, or the Diamonds, those Sisters in Arms, who stood by her side. Their conscience should be our conscience, and our voices should reflect theirs. 

And so, it’s crucial that this becomes a time for each of us to pause, to reflect, communicate effectively, and to support the game that we love, and the athletes that we admire so much. Netball, and our First Nations people’s place in the sport, deserves all of that, and more. 

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About the Author:

Physiotherapist, writer and netball enthusiast. Feature articles, editorials and co-author of "Shine: the making of the Australian Netball Diamonds". Everyone has a story to tell, and I'm privileged to put some of them on paper. Thank you to the phenomenal athletes, coaches and people in the netball world who open a door to their lives, and let me tiptoe in.
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