Diamonds gagged by Netball Australia amid Hancock Prospecting sponsor saga

The Diamonds have closed ranks after a week of on-court defeats and off-court controversy, heading home on the brink of losing a second-straight Constellation Cup for the first time.

Stacey Marinkovich’s side will swap New Zealand for Melbourne on Monday, snapping a long run away from home. The Australians will play their first home Tests since 2019 when the Constellation Cup concludes in Melbourne on Wednesday and the Gold Coast on Sunday.

After losing the opening two matches to a sharper and more precise Silver Ferns outfit, the Diamonds need two strong wins to claim back the trophy. But beyond the netball, the sport also needs to address a ruction between the players and the sport’s managers that threatens the code.

There has been speculation that the players had taken a stand against Hancock Prospecting, the mining company of Gina Rinehart, when they appeared in uniforms without the new sponsor’s logo during the recent games in New Zealand.

The Diamonds are reportedly siding with squad member Donnell Wallam, who stands on the brink of becoming just the third Indigenous player to represent Australia. Wallam has reportedly raised concerns with the company’s record on Indigenous issues.

Netball Australia said prior to Sunday’s second game that the new squad uniform had been delayed “pending the resolution of outstanding matters relating to the player interim agreement and certain sensitivities”.

The issue is a thorny one, not least because Netball Australia has suffered losses of more than $7m in two Covid-impacted years. Hancock has agreed a $15m sponsorship deal over four years with the cash-strapped governing body.

Former Diamonds captain Sharni Norder (nee Layton) also opposes the sponsorship due to Hancock’s climate record, and spoke to the team in the build-up to this series. Netball Australia says the issue will be resolved at the end of the series.

The players are showing solidarity, but the situation has been marked by poor communication between the sport’s management and its star players. Netball Australia media manager Georgina Cahill declined access to Marinkovich after Sunday’s game, and said captain Liz Watson would address media on Tuesday.

The issue was only briefly touched on by Kiwi journalists after New Zealand’s 52-48 win in Tauranga, when Marinkovich was asked in her post-match press conference whether she had been able to maintain focus this week.

“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 be able to focus on what we need to do out on court.”

The controversy could yet spill over into other sports. 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 1,000 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.”