What sports can expect when Rinehart is paying the bills – Sydney Morning Herald

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A few years after becoming Australian swimming’s saviour with a multimillion-dollar sponsorship in 2012, Hancock Prospecting heiress Gina Rinehart was sitting in the grandstand alongside her daughter, Ginia, at a major meet.
Down in the warm-up pool, the country’s best swimmers trundled through the water, readying themselves for the competition ahead.
Gina Rinehart with Swimming Australia President John Bertrand at the Australian titles in 2016.Credit:Getty
One of them was James Magnussen, the former 100m freestyle world champion, who was surprised when Swimming Australia chairman John Bertrand beckoned him to the edge of the pool.
“Gina’s daughter wants to meet you,” Bertrand said, according to sources who saw the exchange.
That Magnussen would be swimming his first event in less than an hour didn’t seem to matter. The young swimmer was taken aback but obeyed Bertrand’s command, towelling himself off before climbing the stairs of the grandstand, past curious spectators wondering where he could be going, before plopping down between the richest person in the country and her daughter for a chat.
The anecdote says more about the cash-strapped sports that Rinehart supports than what she expects in return for the tens of millions of dollars she throws their way.
Australia’s netball captain Liz Watson fronts the media on Tuesday.Credit:Scott McNaughton
Athletes and administrators either take the truckloads of money on offer and yield to what Rinehart and her team want — or they walk away.
Australia’s leading netballers, though, have taken a different approach, telling Rinehart something she seldom hears: “No”.
They haven’t said “no” to the $15 million sponsorship deal recently signed with Netball Australia. Rather, they’ve said “no” to what they believe Hancock Prospecting represents.
As you’d expect, it’s bent a lot of people out of shape, with players branded “selfish”, “ungrateful” and “woke” after agreeing to support Indigenous player Donnell Wallam, who didn’t feel comfortable about wearing the Hancock Prospecting logo when she makes her debut in the series against England starting later this month.
Like many Indigenous people, Wallam, a Noongar woman from Perth, is aggrieved about comments from Rinehart’s late father, Lang Hancock, in 1984 that some Indigenous people should be sterilised.
“The ones who are no good to themselves and can’t accept things, the half-castes — and this is where most of the trouble comes — I would dope the water up so that they were sterile and would breed themselves out in future, and that would solve the problem,” Hancock said.
Rinehart has never condemned these remarks, although her representatives often point to her philanthropic work in Indigenous communities in the Western Australia by way of response.
The home page of her personal website, Ginarinehart.com.au, features a National Indigenous Times story from Clinton Wolf highlighting her financial support of Madalah, an Indigenous children’s charity.
Also on the home page are links to Sunday Mail editorial headlined “Diamonds miss the point” and a Sky News report claiming Australian netball faces “very dark days”.
Donnell Wallam took issue with Hancock Prospecting’s netball sponsorship.Credit:Getty
So much for the peace talks between the players and Hancock representatives on Tuesday morning. While the Diamonds will continue to play the Constellation Cup series against New Zealand without the mining giant’s logo on their uniforms, it remains unclear what will happen beyond that.
Numerous sources familiar with the situation suggest the issue extends deeper than just who and when Diamonds players wear the Hancock logo.
First, the relationship between the Diamonds, their players’ union and chief executive Kelly Ryan is fractured.
Ryan has the tough job of dealing with $7 million debt caused by lockdowns and border closures during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But players have been furious for months over claims they have not been consulted about major issues that affect them, including the last-minute decision to move the Super Netball grand final to Perth and the possibility of a lucrative deal with gambling companies.
They are bemused by the narrative they say has been spun to sections of the media about the Hancock deal; that they’ve held Netball Australia to ransom when all they wanted was a conversation about the logo and what it means for Wallam.
The players feel that Diamonds captain Liz Watson has unfairly become the face of the story and those within the team are concerned about her welfare.
But the impasse raises another issue: should athletes have a voice in who sponsors them? Do they deserve a say in who pays their wage?
The argument that the players shouldn’t bite the hand that feeds them no longer applies, regardless of how much a sponsor is tipping in.
Leading athletes of Muslim faith have successfully asked for alcohol and gambling logos to be removed from their uniforms.
Wallam’s inspiration for speaking up was Sonny Bill Williams, who asked to have logos removed during his time at the Auckland Blues and Sydney Roosters.
As reported in the Herald on Tuesday, Australian captain Pat Cummins raised concerns about the major sponsor Alinta’s attitude towards climate change.
A leviathan sport like cricket can afford to fall at the feet of its athletes, particularly ones as powerful as the Test captain, on matters important to them and their teammates.
There will always be another corporate giant ready to shell out huge amounts to be associated with the baggy green.
But so-called “tier two” sports, like swimming, which capture the national interest every two years with the Olympics or Commonwealth Games, cannot afford to be so choosy.
Is it any coincidence that Hancock Prospecting has targeted these sports? Hancock is also a benefactor of rowing, volleyball and synchronised swimming, all of which rely heavily on its funding.
Earlier this year, Rinehart announced a major sponsorship of the Australian Olympic Committee, which is in the final stages of putting together its own sustainability policy.
Hancock pulled its sponsorship of Swimming Australia in November 2020, instead funding swimmers directly.
Those at SA at the time say it was because Hancock wanted a say in the next chief executive and who was on the board.
A spokesperson for Hancock rejected suggestions of heavy-handedness, telling the Herald the company merely wanted one seat on the board because of the turmoil in which SA had found itself in.
Instead of cutting funding to swimmers, Rinehart actually increased it — to $3.1 million annually. No wonder athletes will do anything she asks.
A spokesperson for Hancock Prospecting said: “After a prolonged timeframe of raising serious concerns around the management of our funds with Swimming Australia during a time of internal challenges and executive management turnover for the sport, and looking for ways to get better certainty around how they were being used we took the difficult position to terminate our relationship with the national body and instead divert and then increase our overall investment directly to the athletes, through Swimming Queensland whom we have had a long-term relationship.”
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