Diamonds ‘wanted to support’ Hancock sponsorship but no regrets over stand taken

Diamonds captain Liz Watson said she does not regret taking the stand that led to Netball Australia’s $15m sponsorship deal being pulled, after the wing attack was influential in Sunday night’s emotional comeback defeat of New Zealand on the Gold Coast.

The 57-52 victory was enough to reclaim the Constellation Cup on goal difference, Australia winning both games on home soil after dropping the first two in New Zealand. Their resilient performance followed a week of unprecedented off-court drama under Watson’s reign, during which Hancock Prospecting pulled a four-year, $15m high performance commitment.

Mining firm Roy Hill, majority-owned by Hancock, will also withdraw its sponsorship of Netball WA and the West Coast Fever. It stemmed from West Australian Indigenous player Donnell Wallam, who is set to debut this week against England, taking exception to the company’s record on Indigenous matters dating back 40 years to comments by owner Gina Rinehart’s late father Lang Hancock.

Wallam’s teammates had supported her concerns and initial requests not to wear the company’s logo on her uniform during the three-Test England series.

The deal was pulled on Saturday despite the goaler reportedly agreeing to wear the logo on her uniform, leaving the cash-strapped organisation scrambling for a new backer.

“We’re disappointed that the sponsorship is off the table; we were very excited, wanted to support it,” Watson said. “But we supported Donnell, the growth of this program and we’ve showed different learning points along the way, from an organisation and players as well.

“We speak about an environment where everyone feels comfortable and can perform at their best. That’s what I take out of this … and I think we were able to show that [in Sunday’s win]. I love this group, I’m so proud of every single one of them, it’s not just Donnell, it’s everyone.”

Diamonds coach Stacey Marinkovich was measured when asked if she too was proud of the players’ stance.

“They were able to provide an environment where someone felt safe enough to raise a concern,” she said. “It’s how you work through that is where you grow as a group. That’s a huge reflection on the type of people we’ve got. So yeah, I am proud of being able to create an environment where people can be authentic to themselves.”

A sold-out crowd delighted in the side’s comeback win, their first appearance on the Gold Coast since a gutting Commonwealth Games final loss to England in 2018. The team redeemed themselves at the Birmingham Games earlier this year, where netball was the hottest ticket in town, and have their sights set on next year’s World Cup.

Marinkovich was sure the team remained attractive to potential investors despite the turbulent week.

“We play a game that people really enjoy to watch; an exciting brand of netball,” she said. “There’s nothing better than where netball is in the world at the moment, there’s no guarantee of any win anywhere.

“We do present ourselves well and show some really strong values and this whole experience has enabled us to grow as a sport and will take us in a great direction.”