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Hancock Prospecting pulls financial support of Netball Australia amid player concerns

Hancock Prospecting announced it was "regrettably" withdrawing its netball support; the lucrative deal was set to continue through to 2025; previous comments made by Hancock Prospecting founder Lang Hancock about Indigenous Australians were a cause of concern for Diamonds players

Netball Australia
Image: The Australian Diamonds won the recent Commonwealth Games and face England at the end of October

Hancock Prospecting has announced it is withdrawing its support of Netball Australia less than a month after it became a high performance partner amid controversy.

The company issued a statement on Saturday "regrettably" announcing the decision, after Australian Diamonds players recently raised concerns about the sponsorship.

The sponsorship, which was signed last month, was set to continue through to 2025 and was believed to have included a deal that the Hancock branding would feature on the players' uniforms throughout international matches.

Diamonds players, including Indigenous netballer Donnell Wallam, had raised concerns about the partnership, relating to comments made by Executive Chairman Gina Rinehart's father and Hancock Prospecting founder Lang Hancock about Indigenous Australians.

The withdrawal from the reported $15 million deal - said by Netball Australia to be "a major investment for our sport" - is a financial blow to the organisation, which posted a $4.4 million loss in the 2021 financial year.

"Hancock and Roy Hill do not wish to add to netball's disunity problems, and accordingly Hancock has advised Netball Australia that it has withdrawn from its proposed partnership effectively immediately," the statement read.

Wallam, who later this month is expected to become the first Indigenous player to represent the Diamonds in more than 20 years, was reportedly reluctant to wear the new sponsor's logo.

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She was also reportedly considering seeking an exemption, as other athletes have done when a sponsor doesn't align with their beliefs or religion, however the issue raised national attention.

Donnell Wallam
Image: Donnell Wallam is set to make her debut for Australia against England during the forthcoming three-Test series

Both Netball Australia and national team captain Liz Watson had voiced their support for Hancock Prospecting, with the deal thought to have secured the future of the sport's organisation, which sustained heavy losses over two years during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"As players we do know that Hancock is such a great investment for our program," Watson said earlier this week.

But Watson also said that the team wanted to show support for their team-mate.

"We're supporting her cultural sensitivities around the program, around the partnership, and we want her to be herself and feel comfortable and strong," Watson said.

Netball Australia
Image: The Australian Diamonds won the recent Commonwealth Games and face England at the end of October

Hancock has offered to provide four months' worth of sponsorship to help Netball Australia and Netball WA find alternative partners, if they wish to accept.

"Hancock appreciates Netball Australia's warm welcome and support, and because of this Hancock and Roy Hill have advised Netball Australia and Netball WA respectively, that it will instead provide a four-month sponsorship should they and their players accept it," the statement said.

"To continue funding the athletes and to help netball as it arranges alternative funding and sponsorships."

Netball Australia described the announcement of Hancock Prospecting's withdrawal of support as "a disappointing outcome for the sport," but said the organisation understood the decision.

"We are grateful that Hancock Prospecting continued to stand by our sport throughout the recent turbulence and we regret the impact this has had on the company," Netball Australia chair Wendy Archer said.

"This has been a challenging period for all involved and while every effort has been made from all parties to resolve the issues surrounding the sensitivities of the partnership, unfortunately we have not been able to achieve a mutually satisfactory outcome."

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