It’s finally over.
Netball’s long and bitter pay dispute has been won by the players, as the sport’s administration raises the white flag after losing its leader and copping huge blows to its reputation.
The casualty list sits at just one for now.
News broke yesterday that chief executive Kelly Ryan had resigned, but will there be more heads to roll at a board level in the aftermath of this messy spat?
And has she become a scapegoat for poor decisions made by the board and wider executive as a collective?
The Super Netball collective player agreement (CPA) negotiations have been running since the start of this year, stuck in a repetitive argument over a potential revenue share model.
Ryan argued an independent report commissioned by the sporting body had determined netball’s well-documented poor financial status — owing $4 million in bank loans, while none of the Super Netball clubs turned a profit — meant it could not afford to enter that kind of partnership.
Despite a similar model being adopted in a range of other high-profile Australian sports and the netballers asking for a much more modest 20 per cent cut of above-forecast sponsorship revenue.
That report, the ABC was told, was commercial in confidence and unable to be shared as proof of Netball Australia’s stance. However, those within the know say it was outdated and based on a Diamonds revenue share, not in fact Super Netball, while being laced with a bunch of motherhood statements and lacking any hard evidence that focused on figures or facts.
Financial transparency has become a real issue in netball’s reporting and so, as has been pointed out previously, this latest controversy to engulf the sport is less to do with money and more to do with a playing group that has lost faith and trust in its organisation; desperate to be given a seat at the table and to be treated like a key stakeholder in the game.
To make their point, the players have held out in the hope of a revenue-sharing partnership and gone unpaid since the last CPA expired on September 30.
A long list of examples over the past four years where the athletes feel they were blindsided by major changes should help people understand how the relationship deteriorated so badly.
Netball has attracted criticism for its handling of rule changes, salary cap breaches, stand-offs between clubs over COVID-impacted matches, selling off the grand final, the $15 million Hancock Prospecting sponsorship, its failure to protect Donnell Wallam in the wake of that disaster, the disbanding of the Collingwood netball side and losing $18 million in federal government funding.
Not to mention the tactics the national body has applied to its negotiations regarding the separate Diamonds and Super Netball CPAs, using its advantage in the unbalanced power dynamic to withhold Netball World Cup selection, leave players in limbo about their job security for next year and unpaid for 11 weeks in the lead-up to Christmas, while threatening the Diamonds with legal action if they did not attend the Australian Netball Awards.
There have been times when the players have been branded as greedy, willing to bleed the sport dry as it struggles to run its elite competition and as the ones to blame for the Hancock Prospecting sponsorship falling apart last year as they rallied around a teammate.
Yet, in recent weeks, it has become clear that there are figures at the top still making money despite netball’s precarious position with the revelation that a handful of executives share a salary pool of $1.9 million while the player payment pool of $6.5 million is shared by a total 80 players.
In their defence, the players have tried to break down the scale of their CPA requests, their commitment to help the sport grow and why a revenue share will actually work to benefit the sport.
They’ve also repeatedly insisted that they never turned their backs on Gina Rinehart’s money and were willing to work with the mining magnate to come up with solutions regarding the terms of her company’s sponsorship before she decided to withdraw her commitment on her own accord.
All of this is likely to fall on deaf ears amongst the #gowokegobroke brigade who much prefer to argue their agendas than research the facts.
Nonetheless, the players’ solidarity in numbers and the guidance of the Australian Netball Players’ Association (ANPA) has paid off today, with the new CPA three-year deal ticking several boxes that should help the sport become a key player once again in such a competitive sporting landscape.
The athletes will receive back pay to October 1 and an 11 per cent pay rise over the terms of the agreement that will see the average salary rise to $89,221 and the minimum salary to $46,000.
More opportunities will be available to play Super Netball with the introduction of an 11th player — now one nominated training partner per team will be eligible for selection outside of injury or illness on a six-month minimum salary contract.
A professional netball committee will also be established, with formal ANPA representation to work collaboratively through new opportunities for athletes and the growth of the league.
And the big sticking point has now been resolved, reaching the sport’s very first revenue-share model, which will encourage the players to work closely with commercial partners to grow the sport’s value and offer them increased earning potential through increases to commercial caps.
At a press conference today announcing the new deal, Netball Australia took a very different tact after copping a lot of bad PR and noticing public favour had swung towards the players.
General manager of high performance, now interim chief executive, Stacey West spoke glowingly about ANPA’s role in the negotiations and the athlete’s value to the game.
“We are super proud and excited about this model and looking forward to understanding its opportunities moving forward,” West said.
“ANPA’s contribution and their role in the negotiation has been significant, valued and a really critical part of our way forward.”
It’s great that ANPA and Netball Australia seem to have finally agreed on something: “Today is a groundbreaking day for the sport,” they both said.
But at what cost? And had they not come to that agreement back in February, or even September, could netball have avoided the sport’s name once again being dragged through the mud?
In ANPA president and Diamonds defender Jo Weston’s opinion, the ongoing tensions and 11 weeks without pay have been “worth it” as the players have secured a key piece of the puzzle for future stars in the years to come as the sport works towards finding its feet financially and discovering its true commercial value.
In the meantime, those on the outside are left to wonder what will happen to this generation of young girls and boys looking for guidance from their parents when deciding which sport to play. Will Australia’s number one team sport still be an obvious choice after garnering such a poor reputation?
As other sports like football, basketball and cricket continue to generate a huge amount of interest and love for their national teams, netball has branded our world number one-ranked Diamonds players as trouble makers, when in reality, they happen to be some of the best role models on offer in this country.
The last question left to ponder is whether Ryan’s departure is the one change needed to fix the sport?
West has a close relationship with the players and has been working in the sport for more than a decade, but was reportedly involved in the decision to withhold Aussie selection that caused such distress ahead of the World Cup.
And what about the board, who would have no doubt been in the room when Ryan was given the go-ahead to execute the governance decisions that have caused the rift?
Yesterday, Netball Australia chair Wendy Archer fronted the press on behalf of the board and said there had been no further discussion about anyone else’s departure. She also disclosed they weren’t aware that Ryan was planning on heading out the door.
Archer herself is netball personified, having played the game as a child, then worked her way through the Netball NSW administration ranks, working tirelessly to earn her status as a life member of the state sporting body before she took on a national director role.
Although there is concern about whether she is a strong enough figure to help lead the game as chair, we need more people like Archer at the top who are here because they love netball, instead of using the sport for their agendas as a stepping stone.
For now, all seems to be relatively quiet in the Netball Australia board room, as Ryan takes the fall.
It will be interesting to see in the weeks that follow whether they will take any accountability and if they themselves realise that netball needs fresh ideas and genuine turnover if it is going to heal.
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