Sponsors need to be diligent, just like athletes, to ‘earn their spot’ on a jersey, says former Diamonds player

What started as a request by Australian netballer Donnell Wallam to remove the name “Hancock” from her dress has erupted into a nationwide conversation about sports washing that some athletes and fans say is overdue.

From the Australian Diamonds netball team’s new partnership with Hancock Prospecting, to the Fremantle Dockers’ long-standing partnership with Woodside, and Australia’s Test captain Pat Cummins snubbing Alinta Energy, sports sponsorships have come under scrutiny.

Former Australian Diamond Amy Steel – who retired from the sport in 2016 – has her own concerns over Netball Australia’s new contract.

Ms Steel retired from the sport after suffering heat stroke. She had been playing a game on a 40-degree day before collapsing and losing consciousness, leading to lingering health issues.

“Climate change is a deeply personal issue for me – my netball career ended due to heatstroke,” said Ms Steel, who now worked as a decarbonisation consultant.

“We have already seen so many recurring days of extreme heat. We have to change the schedule for many elite sports.

“It’s already having an impact on cricketers and tennis players.”

Ms Steel said she was also concerned about Australian Diamonds’ new partnership with Hancock Prospecting, which is owned and run by Australia’s richest woman, Gina Rinehart, who last year prepared a video for high school students who question climate change.

Gina Rinehart’s company, Hancock Prospecting, sponsors several sports associations.(Provided: Hancock Prospecting)

“I would say it’s a really unattractive position for a sponsor to speak out on an issue that has such solid science and, above all, to try to convince our generations of students of this issue,” he said. she declared.

“As an athlete, you have to fight so hard to earn the opportunity to wear the dress, and it takes years and years for some athletes.

“From a sponsorship perspective, putting on the dress seems like a fairly easy undertaking. There doesn’t seem to be much rigor in being able to win a spot on an Australian Diamonds dress – and other codes as well.

“Sponsors should be subject to a certain rigor in order to earn their place, just as we as athletes must earn this privilege.

Ms Steel said athletes had shown bravery in speaking out in recent days, breaking a ‘golden rule’ for professional sportspeople.

“One of the golden rules is to never say anything that might reflect negatively on you and your sponsors and your relationship with your sponsor,” Ms Steel said.

“It takes a lot of courage as an athlete to stand up to everything you’ve been trained in and say, ‘Actually, I’m going to stand up on this issue and make my voice heard’.”

Sponsorships and “soft power”

It was climate concerns that also got a high-profile group of Fremantle Dockers fans – including author Tim Winton – talking about sport washing this week.

The group – which also included a former club legend and former Western Australian Premier – wrote a letter to the club regarding their long-term partnership with Woodside Energy.

In February, Winton gave an “uncomfortable” speech, decrying the Perth Festival’s reliance on fossil fuel corporate sponsor money.

“If we are trying to give ourselves a chance to address the climate challenge, the emergency that we face, then we have to get out of their influence,” he said at the time.

A man wears a Freemantle Dockers scarf
Tim Winton is an author, environmentalist and Fremantle Dockers fan.(ABC News: Rhiannon Shine)

Earlier this month, the Perth Festival announced it was parting ways with US fossil fuel giant Chevron.

“The sponsorship game isn’t really philanthropy. It’s soft power,” Winton told 7:30 a.m. on ABC.

“Washing the Arts [and] sportswashing – it’s a way of laundering what is now, obviously, becoming an unacceptable business.

“It’s a way of trying to trade their social license on the back of our club, our players and our game.

“I don’t think a lot of us are comfortable with the idea of ​​us being used that way.”

Winton told ABC 7:30 a.m. he understands it might be difficult for the arts and sports sectors to attract funding, however, the bar should be raised.

He said the Perth Festival’s decision to part ways with Chevron was an example of this.

Man stands on stage behind the Perth Festival podium with a whale shark skin graphic in the background.
Tim Winton speaking during the Writers Weekend closing speech at the Perth Festival, 2022. (Provided by: Paul Gamblin)

“Lo and behold, in six months Chevron gracefully left that arena,” he said.

“I think the same is likely to happen with Woodside and the Fremantle Dockers.”

On Wednesday, Dockers chairman Dale Alcock said the players on ABC Radio had raised their concerns and discussed the matter with the club executive, but there were no plans to terminate the Woodside deal , which would expire at the end of 2023.

Woodside told ABC 7.30 he appreciates his long-standing partnership with the Dockers and that the company and the club share common values.

Future sponsorships must align with values, says marketing expert

Kevin Argus, sports marketing and sponsorship specialist at RMIT, explained that sponsors pay for the rights to exploit or leverage a sports organization’s brand for commercial gain, and this is very effective.

Dr Argus said sponsors are generally looking for either brand awareness, loyalty or likeability.

Kevin Argus
RMIT’s Dr. Kevin Argus is an expert in sports marketing and sponsorship.(Provided)

“[The] The question is, ‘Why would Australia’s richest woman want to be loved by people who apparently have nothing to do with her business?'” he asked.

“All major corporations invest heavily in lobbyists to influence government policy and it’s been a super successful investment.

“When that fails, some corporate leaders engage in political activism to inspire the public to support their agenda on behalf of their shareholders.”

Dr Argus said he expected more athletes to speak out against sponsorships they were not comfortable with.

“Going forward, the broader sports sponsorship ecosystem will see greater influence from players seeking to align their values ​​with sponsorship deals,” he said.

“The reason this will be increasingly supported is that policy-making at governmental, institutional and organizational levels will be influenced by women and youth who are now the most influential voices in the community.

“Organizations that do not consult, consider or act in accordance with these voices and their values ​​will increasingly be seen as less relevant.”

Hancock defends his record

Donnell Wallam, a Noongar woman from the WA area, expressed an objection to wearing the Hancock Prospecting logo on her dress when she made her team debut.

Wallam has not publicly stated her reasons for resisting wearing the logo.

Since Wallam raised his concerns over the sponsorship, the Hancock Prospecting logo has been conspicuously absent from players’ uniforms, including during their game against New Zealand last night.

Native woman wearing a gray shirt seated at a table.
Noongar’s wife, Donnell Wallam, has been a member of the Diamonds team, but has yet to debut.(ABC News: Curtis Rodda)

In a statement, mining company Hancock Prospecting said its multimillion-dollar partnership with Netball Australia would continue, “assuming Netball Australia is able to reach an agreement with the parties involved”.

Asked if this meant the sponsorship deal was contingent on all players wearing the Hancock logo, a company spokesperson said: “We won’t be answering any further questions.”

“Hancock Prospecting and Gina Rinehart have a long and highly valued history of supporting Australian athletes as they strive to perform at their best and represent our country on the world stage,” the spokesperson said.

“Our long-term partnerships with Australia’s top athletes in swimming, rowing, volleyball and artistic swimming span over a decade.

“Assuming Netball Australia reaches an agreement with the relevant parties, $3.5 million per year for four years can be directed to the Diamonds High-Performance scheme.”

Netball players wearing green and gold jerseys huddle together.
Some players objected to the multi-million dollar sponsorship deal with Hancock Prospecting.(PA: James Ross)

The company also defended its Indigenous rights record, highlighting the scholarships, training and employment it offers.

“Hancock has positive agreements with all Aboriginal title holders in the areas where we operate, providing very significant royalty payments to traditional owners in all of our mining areas, well in excess of $300 million over the past seven years only,” the company said. .

“Assuming Netball Australia is able to reach an agreement with the parties involved, we look forward to working with Netball Australia and the Diamonds to support and provide more opportunities for many people, including Indigenous youth in the Pilbara. , Western Australia and Australia at large.”

In the 1980s, Lang Hancock – who was the founder of Hancock Prospecting and father of Gina Rinehart – made comments suggesting a plan that would kill Indigenous people.

ABC 7.30 asked Hancock Prospecting what their reaction was to reports that players were concerned about the late Lang Hancock’s views of Indigenous Australians, but they didn’t answer that question in their response.

Ms Steel said that while she could not speak on behalf of Indigenous Australians, she believed the company should acknowledge its founder’s previous remarks.

Side profile of Amy Steel at the beach
Amy Steel says Hancock Prospecting should apologize for the hurtful remarks towards Indigenous Australians by its founder, Lang Hancock.(ABC News: Rhiannon Shine)

“When we reflect on what emerges from the Uluru statement, [and] telling the truth is kind of expecting companies like Hancock to raise their hands and say, “Lang Hancock said some odious things some time ago, we recognize that they were very hurtful and harmful, and we can see the player reaction that it is still hurtful and harmful today to this day,” she said.

“There are apologies that need to be said.”

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