SYDNEY (AP) — An Australian mining company withdrew 15 million Australian dollars ($9.5 million) in sponsorship money for netball after top players questioned the contract and also supported an indigenous player over concerns about the Racist comments from the founder of the company in the past.
Hancock Prospecting, owned by Australia’s richest person, billionaire mining magnate Gina Rinehart, said on Saturday it would withdraw the funds but said it would continue short-term payments to allow Netball Australia to find a new sponsor.
Netball has long been the most popular team sport for women and girls in Australia, but the national association is millions of dollars in debt due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The sponsorship, which was signed last month, was due to continue until 2025 and was believed to include a deal where Hancock branding would appear on players’ uniforms during international matches.
However, the national team, known as the Diamonds, played without the brand in their match against New Zealand earlier in the week.
“Hancock and Roy Hill do not wish to add to netball’s disunity issues and accordingly Hancock has advised Netball Australia that it is withdrawing from its proposed partnership with immediate effect,” the statement said.
Donnell Wallam, a First Nations woman from the state of Western Australia who now plays for the Queensland-based Firebirds in the top-tier national league, raised concerns about Netball Australia’s deal with Rinehart’s company.
Wallam took issue with Hancock Prospecting’s track record on Indian affairs, dating back to Rinehart’s late father, Lang Hancock. He proposed in a 1984 television interview that some Indians be given contaminated water so they could be sterilized and “disappear.”
Wallam, who is expected to become the first Indigenous player to represent the Diamonds in more than 20 years later this month, was reluctant to use the new sponsor’s logo. She was considering seeking an exemption, as other athletes have when a sponsor does not align with her beliefs or religion, however, the issue drew national attention when her teammates chose to support her.
Both Netball Australia and national team captain Liz Watson expressed their support for Hancock Prospecting, with the deal believed to have secured the future of the sports organization which suffered heavy losses for two years during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As players, we know that Hancock is a great investment in our program,” Watson said earlier this week.
But Watson also said the team wanted to show support for his teammate.
“We’re supporting her cultural sensitivities around the show, around the partnership, and we want her to be herself and feel comfortable and strong,” Watson said.
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