At 4:59pm on Thursday, June 2, Super Netball announced that they had sold the 2022 grand final to Perth with just two rounds of…
Netballers past and present have thrown their passion behind the outcome of Netball Australia’s AGM meeting this week.
Why? The future of the game is at hand, of course. After years of building the game into what is now – a viable, entertaining product that’s just inches away from being completely professional – the fight is on to protect it.
I can’t recall Netball being in a better place either, as Liz Ellis said in her recent Sydney Morning Herald column:
“Participation rates have stayed steady despite the increased competition for the grassroots from other sports. Netball’s pathways for its talented players and officials are world best. The Diamonds are Australia’s best sports team, and its players are household names.
“Best of all Suncorp Super Netball, as the flagship for the sport, is a huge success. With the backing of Channel Nine and blue-chip sponsors, the sport has finally moved to take its place as an entertainment product. The best players are fully professional, something that was a pipedream just a decade ago.”
But setting up this new competition came at a cost to the state bodies, who were left disgruntled and have remained largely silent on their role in the boardroom stoush, but it’s a stoush that’s been brewing for some time, and it’s come to a head since highly respected board member Anne-Marie Corby was removed from the Netball Australia Board.
And now, much to player anger, former Australian Captain Kathryn Harby-Williams missed out on being re-elected into her position on the board, with Cheryl McCormack, Marcia Ella-Duncan, and Susan Comerford elected in on Friday.
It is understood the state bodies were on the verge of launching a vote of no-confidence in the Netball Australia board a year ago, with clubs left in limbo through on-going delays while commercial agreements were finalised with the likes of major sponsor Suncorp and broadcast partners Channel Nine.
While the new broadcast agreement and subsequent pay deal were hailed as a landmark for the sport, there were concerns behind the scenes that the financial model was unsustainable, with Netball Australia failing to generate the expected revenue to support such a pay increase.
The move to grant the three new licences to AFL and NRL clubs Collingwood, Sunshine Coast Lightning (Melbourne Storm) and the Giants, owned by NNSW but aligned with GWS, also proved contentious.
And while it’s claimed that five existing franchises, which are each run by the state bodies, complained the new teams would siphon off talent that they had not paid to develop – it’s understood it’s mainly been Queensland and NSW that have been at large as part of a power play to gain control and return influence to the states. Both have been unhappy with the circumstances surrounding the formation of the Suncorp national league.
After nine rounds of the Super Netball competition, the new clubs occupy three of the top four spots – a clear indication of where the best players have migrated.
Which leads me to this question: what do the state bodies want? A fairer distribution of talent, or a way to retain their own developed players?
I say, let the game continue to grow in professionalism and let it move forward. What are the solutions? Let’s either reinstate the Open National Netball Championships or better still, let’s begin a Netball State of Origin mid-season… I’d like to see that!
And surely, a State of Origin is something Channel Nine would be interested in. Put the players back in their state colours and let them fight it out. Let the states be seen, heard and represented. I guess that’s why there’s so much passion in Rugby League SOO.
What’s most sure though, Kate Palmer, current Australian Sports Commission chief executive officer, would not like to see the recent developments of Netball be lost.
Palmer began the ASC CEO role in December 2016 after holding the position of Netball Australia CEO. She was not only instrumental in leading the development of the now defunct trans-Tasman competition, but also the new eight-team Super Netball league that replaced it this year.
I very much doubt Palmer will let her good work be undone, especially since the Australian Sports Commission pours in their annual $3 million investment into the sport. Besides, it would be a total wrong-doing.
I have faith, and so too should the current crop of players. After a player and new board member pow-wow over a group phone chat, the players decided it’s in the best interested of netball not to strike, but rather to protest.
Netball Australia released a statement in conjunction with member organisations, stating it was committed to working with the players.
“The sport is in total agreement around the need to move forward collectively,” it read.
“The players are key stakeholders and their views help shape the future of netball. There is no intention to roll back player entitlements; in fact it is our collective ambition to be the first sport to deliver fully professional female athletes in Australia with the best terms and conditions.
Netball will continue as the leading advocate for women’s sport.”
The potential strike would have been a major blow for new broadcaster Channel Nine, which took over the rights this season for the new league in what was hailed as a significant five-year deal.