Women’s sport weekly wrap: Netball threatens to hurt itself from the inside out

Mary Konstantopoulos Columnist

By Mary Konstantopoulos, Mary Konstantopoulos is a Roar Expert

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    When it comes to success stories in women’s sport in 2017, netball has been one of my favourites to talk about.

    While the Australian Diamonds are considered one of Australia’s most successful sporting teams ever, having won 11 out of 13 world championships and three Commonwealth Games gold medals, this year the focus has been on the new Suncorp Super Netball competition.

    This new competition has seen 80 players contracted, average salaries increase to $67,500 and a broadcast arrangement with Channel Nine which means that two games are televised on free-to-air television each week. Another three teams were created – Giants Netball, Magpies Netball Club and the Sunshine Coast Lightning – with GIANTS Netball being particularly successful, currently sitting on top of the ladder with seven wins and one loss.

    From the outside looking in you would have been forgiven for thinking that netball was in a very good place, especially when you consider that netball is the top team sport for women and girls in Australia and that in 2016 alone over 500,000 women participated in netball.

    However, this week tensions have emerged between Netball Australia, which is the national body, and the member organisations of Netball Australia, or the state leagues. Suddenly netball doesn’t look so shiny anymore.

    Following the today’s annual general meeting we could be in a position where players strike or a Super Netball breakaway is formed with the intention of creating an alternative competition, and we may even see members of the Australian Diamonds boycott games for the remainder of the competition year.


    Photo by Daniel Carson/dcimages.org/Netball WA

    The trouble started earlier this week with the calling of a special general meeting to dismiss former chair of the board of Netball Australia Anne-Marie Corboy – who, incidentally, is a supremely talented woman who has extensive business experience and has been named several times as one of the top 100 most influential women in Australia.

    Today at the AGM three board members will be elected to office, including someone to replace Anne-Marie. There are five candidates, two of which are seeking re-election, those being Kathryn Harby-Williams and Cheryl McCormack.

    Particularly interesting is Kathryn, who is a former Australian Diamond and has been a key representative for the players in negotiations with the Australian Netball Players Association.

    Post-retirement Kathryn has been a fierce and passionate advocate for the players, wanting to ensure that they are adequately compensated and protected both on and off the court. Her vision and commitment contributed to the improvement in conditions which netball introduced ahead of the new competition.

    Allegedly it is Netball Queensland and Netball NSW who are looking to remove Kathryn from office to wrestle power away from the national body and toward the state bodies instead.

    Should Kathryn be removed from the board, the ramifications will be dire. I commend the players, who have thrown their support behind a woman who is not only competent and qualified to hold a board position but has also in the past thrown her support behind the players involved in the sport she loves so much.

    In a letter of demand released this week the Australian Netball Players Association said that, “it is a non-negotiable position that Kathryn Harby-Williams be re-elected to the board with the overwhelming support of all member organisations and delegates.”

    This letter of demand has been signed by some of the most influential women in netball, including Paige Hadley, Sharni Layton and Kim Green, and it goes on to say that if Kathryn is not re-elected, players will consider whether they continue to play in the Suncorp Super Netball Competition and whether they will wear the green and gold for the Diamonds later this year.

    It’s important to remember that without players we have nothing.

    Much of this tension allegedly comes down to money and the cost of the significant improvement in playing conditions for the players, which was agreed upon ahead of the new Suncorp Super Netball Competition.

    Micaela Wilson in action for the Collingwood Magpies
    Image Credit: Magpies Netball

    Rights, including a rise in the minimum wage, injury protection provisions and provisions to protect players who were pregnant, are now being labelled as ‘too expensive’ – something which is extremely disappointing to me, particularly for a sport like netball, which I thought had a much better understanding than other sports of some of the barriers preventing women from pursuing sport as a professional career.

    There also seems to be distrust and jealousy toward the new expansion teams, with the member organisations of Netball Australia not embracing them.

    Instead of seeing the new clubs as an opportunity to grow the game, as giving more opportunities to young women wanting to play netball and an increased professionalism which has come with having teams aligned to professional football clubs, the focus has been on the increased competition that the new teams have created for players, fans and for sponsorship dollars.

    This tension is so disappointing to me on a number of levels.

    Firstly, netball has been a sport which I have always associated with good governance, as had the Australian Sports Commission. Considering the funding that they provide to netball, no doubt they will be keeping an eye firmly focused on the outcome of today’s AGM.

    More importantly in this situation, however, it is the players who bear the brunt of the consequences – particularly should they be put in a position where they think a strike is their only option or where they need to agree to terms which wind back provisions relating to payment, maternity leave and injury protection.

    Netball has always been a leader for women in sport. I now look to those involved in the sport to act in its best interests and elect a board which will have the power, knowledge and passion to see netball continuing to act as a leader for women in sport.

    I often speak about our sports not being in competition with each other. In the case of netball, the starting position should be that the sport should not be at war with itself.

    Mary Konstantopoulos
    Mary Konstantopoulos

    Mary Konstantopoulos is a lawyer, sports advocate and proud owner and founder of the Ladies Who empire, including Ladies who League, Ladies who Legspin, Ladies who Lineout and Ladies who Leap. You can find her podcast on iTunes and find her on Twitter @mary__kaye and @ladieswholeague.

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    The Crowd Says (28)

    • April 21st 2017 @ 9:09am
      Happy Hooker said | April 21st 2017 @ 9:09am | ! Report

      Mary, agree wholeheartedly with your second last paragraph. However, you seem to be approving of the players threats to strike if someone they want re-elected to the board is not. That is sheer lunacy. The members and delegates are the ones that vote. You cannot have lunatics running the asylum.

      • Columnist

        April 21st 2017 @ 9:14am
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | April 21st 2017 @ 9:14am | ! Report

        Happy Hooker – it’s an interesting point.

        I’m actually having Liz Ellis on my podcast tomorrow to talk through this more because I would really like a bit more of the background.

        From my understanding of the situation, there’s a power struggle between the state leagues (and in particular 2 of the states) and Netball Australia.

        The state leagues want to take power away from the national body and push it more towards themselves. There is also talk of winding back some of the benefits which players got when negotiating their new agreements for the SSN Comp.

        In this situation, I can completely see why players would want to strike – it’s a big day ahead and I’m very interested to see what will happen.

    • April 21st 2017 @ 11:20am
      Onside said | April 21st 2017 @ 11:20am | ! Report

      Off topic Mary; story on BBC site about women coaching. Maybe there’s the basis of an article there. It always puzzles me how men coach women in many sports at an elite level. Anyway, have a look. Onside

      http://www.bbc.com/sport/football/39590395

      • Columnist

        April 21st 2017 @ 11:22am
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | April 21st 2017 @ 11:22am | ! Report

        Hey onside – this is a really interesting one. Thanks a lot. I’ll definitely keep it in the back pocket. Thanks for your continued support!

    • April 21st 2017 @ 11:26am
      Ken Spacey said | April 21st 2017 @ 11:26am | ! Report

      So Mary, perhaps Rugby Union can drum up business by sponsoring the NRL .I cannot fathom why Netball would form close alliances with major football code clubs particularly in the same year when the AFLW has begun and has no qualms about poaching any female athletic talent and looms as the most obvious threat to Netball on all fronts.I’m just off to Hungry Jack’s to get a big mac.

      • April 21st 2017 @ 11:37am
        Sydneysider said | April 21st 2017 @ 11:37am | ! Report

        Good point Ken.

        I’ve wondered about this as well, because let’s be honest here – can you see an AFL club creating a team in the Super Rugby or A-League competitions like they have with the netball???

        Call me cynical but I don’t admire this supposed “sports club” that the GWS Giants and Collingwood have led many to believe that their support in this is for the good of netball.

        • Columnist

          April 21st 2017 @ 11:42am
          Mary Konstantopoulos said | April 21st 2017 @ 11:42am | ! Report

          Sydneysider, I disagree with your cynicism. The creation of these three new teams has given a number of women the opportunity to represent their club in netball at an elite level. I cannot see how this is problematic at all?

          • April 21st 2017 @ 11:50am
            Sydneysider said | April 21st 2017 @ 11:50am | ! Report

            Disagree all you like Mary but this netball/AFL connection is all one-sided in my opinion.

            “The creation of these three new teams has given a number of women the opportunity to represent their club in netball at an elite level.”

            And be poached for the women’s AFL comp.

            • Columnist

              April 21st 2017 @ 11:54am
              Mary Konstantopoulos said | April 21st 2017 @ 11:54am | ! Report

              The poaching of players is not just a netball./AFL thing.

              When the ARU started the 7’s program, women came from plenty of other sports including league and basketball.

              In the AFLW there are women who play AFL and basketball or AFL and football.

              There’s also the forgotten point that people play the sports that they love… otherwise we wouldn’t have women representing Australia in sports like touch football (which is still not a money maker).

              • April 21st 2017 @ 2:18pm
                Jarren Bastow said | April 21st 2017 @ 2:18pm | ! Report

                The view of the AFL and its role here seems to be both illogical, and an indication of Netballers problems.
                Collingwood and GWS having invested in Netball are the last organisations to want to see it struggle. To assume they want to see that investment fail in favour of another investment is bizarre.
                None of the Netballers who switched have been top end, and those that did, did so presumably because they had an unrealised desire to play footy.
                It would be ironic for fear and antipathy to the AFL to be the cause of damage to netball that the AFL itself could never cause.

              • Columnist

                April 21st 2017 @ 4:10pm
                Mary Konstantopoulos said | April 21st 2017 @ 4:10pm | ! Report

                Good comment, Jarren. I thought there was something in the water I was drinking.

        • April 21st 2017 @ 2:36pm
          Jarren Bastow said | April 21st 2017 @ 2:36pm | ! Report

          Collingwood has had a soccer team in the state leagues. I have no doubt they would have been pushing for an A league team if it succeeded – it didn’t.

      • Columnist

        April 21st 2017 @ 11:42am
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | April 21st 2017 @ 11:42am | ! Report

        Interestingly enough Ken, there’s actually been a long association between AFL and netball clubs. I’m not sure where this association started but it has been around for a long time.

        I don’t see AFL or any other sport as a threat to another. The facilities that the AFL Clubs have is superior to what netball teams have and that high performance environment is something I understand has been very beneficial to the three new teams.

        • April 21st 2017 @ 11:51am
          Sydneysider said | April 21st 2017 @ 11:51am | ! Report

          “I don’t see AFL or any other sport as a threat to another.”

          Might want to ask the ARU how they feel about this statement…..

          • Columnist

            April 21st 2017 @ 11:55am
            Mary Konstantopoulos said | April 21st 2017 @ 11:55am | ! Report

            If the ARU stopped focusing on seeing everyone as ‘competitors’ maybe they wouldn’t be in the black hole that they are in now.

            Our sports, particularly when it comes to women in sport should learn from each other. We can all get better together.

            • April 21st 2017 @ 12:16pm
              Sydneysider said | April 21st 2017 @ 12:16pm | ! Report

              “We can all get better together.”

              Yes, let’s all hold hands together, I’m sure the AFL want that.

              No disrespect to you Mary, but I see through all this.

              Good luck to you.

              And yes I support sports that don’t have the money or profile of AFL or cricket (except for rugby league where I support the Wests Tigers) eg. football, rugby, basketball.

              Of course those sports don’t have any affiliation with AFL and the AFL wouldn’t want to either unless it benefits them.

              • Columnist

                April 21st 2017 @ 12:25pm
                Mary Konstantopoulos said | April 21st 2017 @ 12:25pm | ! Report

                Ah, I know what this is. You’re one of those people that has a vendetta against the AFL.

                We’re definitely on different pages then – good luck to you too!

              • April 21st 2017 @ 12:28pm
                Sydneysider said | April 21st 2017 @ 12:28pm | ! Report

                There’s no vendetta against the AFL Mary.

                I support the loser sports such as football, rugby and basketball.

                Have a good day.

        • April 21st 2017 @ 2:20pm
          Ken Spacey said | April 21st 2017 @ 2:20pm | ! Report

          Having started life in a small rural town,it was Footy/Netball followed by cricket/Tennis. So Netball functioned as the closely aligned women’s sport. But that has changed now as the AFL became a hungry corporate monster and other sports have come into the women’s market. My view is that despite the hype women’s AFL was a cynical attempt to undermine sports that catered for female inclusion on merit. Call me cynical but its interesting that the AFL fast tracked after matildas impressive run to get to and go well at Rio and then the Rugby Seven’s got the gold. The then VFL had a go at fielding NSL clubs but lost interest pretty quickly. I feel the AFL came into women’s sport incredibly late for the purpose of seeing off the threat of codes where female numbers and maternal influence on kid’s choices were a perceived threat. Melbourne City men and women have done well via Man City’s parent co. but what if they pull stumps and go? I think they’d go on ok but what if the Three cashed up Netball clubs get dumped by their sugar daddies? That may take the whole comp with it. Quick question what happens if a 6ft 5 goal shooter comes along and all Collingwood;s AFLW ruck options go down in one week. Hard to see the netball team getting priority there.

          • Columnist

            April 21st 2017 @ 2:28pm
            Mary Konstantopoulos said | April 21st 2017 @ 2:28pm | ! Report

            So Ken, just so I understand your point – you think that the AFL started AFLW to undermine sports that instead promote women based on talent/merit?

            • April 21st 2017 @ 4:01pm
              Ken Spacey said | April 21st 2017 @ 4:01pm | ! Report

              I believe that other sports have a more altruistic motivation and the AFLW is to a certain extent a knee jerk reaction. to that. The implication that the start date was bought forward suddenly comes from AFL officials own public statements. The AFL may have more money but what is becoming clear is that the grassroots underpinning the new AFLW is not as developed as you’d think and not as embedded (for female players) as other sports like cricket,basketball and football.

              • Columnist

                April 21st 2017 @ 4:11pm
                Mary Konstantopoulos said | April 21st 2017 @ 4:11pm | ! Report

                Women have been playing AFL at a grassroots level for decades. It’s not a competition between AFL and these other sports which are all, in the end, giving women the opportunity to play the sport that they love at an elite level.

              • April 21st 2017 @ 4:41pm
                Sydneysider said | April 21st 2017 @ 4:41pm | ! Report

                Agreed Ken.

                “But that has changed now as the AFL became a hungry corporate monster and other sports have come into the women’s market. My view is that despite the hype women’s AFL was a cynical attempt to undermine sports that catered for female inclusion on merit. Call me cynical but its interesting that the AFL fast tracked after matildas impressive run to get to and go well at Rio and then the Rugby Seven’s got the gold. The then VFL had a go at fielding NSL clubs but lost interest pretty quickly. I feel the AFL came into women’s sport incredibly late for the purpose of seeing off the threat of codes where female numbers and maternal influence on kid’s choices were a perceived threat.”

                Nailed it with that comment.

        • Roar Guru

          April 21st 2017 @ 6:04pm
          mds1970 said | April 21st 2017 @ 6:04pm | ! Report

          In the country, footy (AFL) & netball teams have played under the banner of a single club for decades.
          Having a football-netball club at an elite level is something new. But it’s certainly something that has potential.
          It’s great for supporters. I doubt I’d have gone to a netball game had GWS Giants not fielded a team. But i’ve enjoyed the games I’ve been to.

      • Columnist

        April 21st 2017 @ 11:59am
        Mary Konstantopoulos said | April 21st 2017 @ 11:59am | ! Report

        And just as an FYI, the Thunderbirds used to be affiliated with Port Adelaide and the Swans-Swifts relationship is also established. The AFL/netball relationship is not a new thing.

        • April 21st 2017 @ 12:54pm
          JB said | April 21st 2017 @ 12:54pm | ! Report

          The Thunderbirds/Port Adelaide association ended in tears.
          This new super netball league seems a completely un-level playing field. I was glad to see a change from the Trans Tasman, but the new comp is not an improvemnet and I have never been less interested in following the game than this season. A players’ strike would only make the appeal less.

          • Columnist

            April 21st 2017 @ 1:29pm
            Mary Konstantopoulos said | April 21st 2017 @ 1:29pm | ! Report

            JB, I’m relatively new to netball – what do you not like about the new comp (other than an un-even playing field?)

    • Roar Guru

      April 21st 2017 @ 5:57pm
      mds1970 said | April 21st 2017 @ 5:57pm | ! Report

      I’m not up to speed on the latest dysfunctional power plays in netball; but a strike would be a disaster for the image of the sport at a professional level.
      The Super Netball has been great for women’s sport, but I doubt it would survive a strike.

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