Sponsors should be put through rigour, just like athletes, to 'earn their place' on a jersey, says former Diamonds player – ABC News

Sponsors should be put through rigour, just like athletes, to 'earn their place' on a jersey, says former Diamonds player
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What started as a request by Australian netballer Donnell Wallam to remove the name "Hancock" from her dress has erupted into a national conversation about sportswashing that some athletes and fans say is overdue.
From the Australian Diamonds netball squad's new partnership with Hancock Prospecting, to the Fremantle Dockers' longstanding one with Woodside, and Australian Test captain Pat Cummins snubbing Alinta Energy, sporting sponsorships have been thrust under the microscope.
Former Australian Diamond Amy Steel — who retired from the sport in 2016 — has her own concerns with Netball Australia's new deal. 
Ms Steel retired from the sport after suffering heat stroke. She had been playing a game on a 40-degree day before she collapsed and lost consciousness, leading to ongoing health issues.
"Climate change is a deeply personal issue to me — my netball career was ended from heat stroke," said Ms Steel, who now worked as a decarbonisation consultant.
"We're already seen so many recurring days of extreme heat. We're having to shift the schedule of a lot of elite sports.
"It's already impacting cricketers and tennis players."
Ms Steel said she also had concerns about the Australian Diamonds' new partnership with Hancock Prospecting, which is owned and run by Australia's wealthiest woman, Gina Rinehart, who last year prepared a video for high school students questioning climate change.
"I would say that's a really unattractive position for a sponsor to be voicing on an issue that has such solidified science and, especially, trying to convince our student generations of that issue," she said.
"As an athlete, you have to fight so hard to earn the opportunity to wear the dress, and that takes years and years for some athletes.
"From a sponsorship perspective, to get on the dress seems like quite an easy venture. It doesn't feel like there's a lot of stringency around being able to earn a space on an Australian Diamonds dress — and for other codes as well.
"The sponsors should have to be put through some rigour to be able to earn their place, the same as we as athletes need to earn that privilege."
Ms Steel said athletes have shown bravery by speaking out in recent days, breaking a "golden rule" for professional sportspeople.
"One of the golden rules is never say anything that could negatively reflect you and your sponsors, and your relationship with your sponsor," Ms Steel said.
"It takes a lot of courage as an athlete to stand against everything that you've been trained and say: 'Actually, I'm going to stand up on this issue and make my voice known'."
It was climate concerns that also drove a group of high-profile Fremantle Dockers fans — including author Tim Winton — to speak out about sportswashing this week.
The group — which also included a former club legend and a former West Australian premier — penned a letter to the club about its long-term partnership with Woodside Energy.
In February, Winton gave an "uncomfortable" speech, denouncing Perth Festival's reliance on sponsorship money from fossil fuel companies
"If we're trying to give ourselves any chance of meeting the climate challenge, the emergency that we're facing, then we've got to extricate ourselves from their influence," he said at the time.
Earlier this month, Perth Festival announced it was parting ways with US fossil fuel giant Chevron.
"The game of sponsorship is not really philanthropy. It is soft power," Winton told ABC's 7.30.
"Arts washing [and] sportswashing — it's a way of greenwashing what is now, obviously, becoming an unacceptable business.
"It is a way of trying to exchange their social licence on the backs of our club and our players and our game.
"I don't think many of us are comfortable with the idea that we are being used in that way."
Winton told ABC's 7.30 that he understands it could be difficult for the arts and sports sectors to attract funding, however, the bar should be lifted.
He said the Perth Festival's decision to part ways with Chevron was an example of this.
"Lo and behold, within six months, Chevron has gracefully departed that arena," he said.
"I think the same is likely to happen with Woodside and the Fremantle Dockers."
On Wednesday, Dockers president Dale Alcock told ABC Radio players had expressed their concerns and discussed the issue with the club's executive, but there were no plans to terminate the Woodside agreement, which would expire at the end of 2023.
Woodside told ABC's 7.30 it values its longstanding partnership with the Dockers and that the company and the club have shared values.
RMIT's sports marketing and sponsorship specialist, Kevin Argus, explained that sponsors paid for the rights to exploit or leverage the brand of a sport organisation for commercial benefit, and it was highly effective.
Dr Argus said sponsors were generally seeking either brand awareness, loyalty or likeability.
"[The] question is: 'Why would the wealthiest woman in Australia wish to be liked by people who apparently have little to do with her business?'," he asked.
"All big companies invest enormously in lobbyists to influence government policy and it's a super successful investment.
"When that fails, some company leaders engage in political activism to influence the public to support their agenda on behalf of their shareholders."
Dr Argus said he expected more athletes to speak out against sponsorships with which they were uncomfortable.
"Moving forward, the broader sport sponsorship ecosystem will experience greater influence of players seeking alignment of their values with sponsorship agreements," he said.
"The reason this will be increasingly supported is that policy formation at government, institutional and organisational levels will be influenced by women and younger people who are now the most-empowered voices in the community.
"Organisations that fail to consult, consider or act in alignment with these voices and their values will increasingly be viewed as less relevant."
Donnell Wallam, a Noongar woman from regional WA, 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 why she resisted wearing the logo.
Since Wallam raised her concerns about the sponsorship, the Hancock Prospecting logo has been conspicuously absent from the players' uniforms, including in their game against New Zealand last night.
In a statement, mining company Hancock Prospecting said its multi-million-dollar partnership with Netball Australia would go ahead, "assuming Netball Australia is able to reach agreement with relevant parties".
Asked whether this meant the sponsorship deal was contingent on all players wearing the Hancock logo, a company spokesman said: "We won't be providing a response to any other questions."
"Hancock Prospecting and Gina Rinehart have a long and well-regarded history of supporting Australian athletes to strive to be their best and represent our country on the world stage," the spokesman said.
"Our long-term partnerships with Australia's top swimming, rowing, volleyball and artistic swimming athletes has spanned more than a decade.
"Assuming Netball Australia can reach agreement with relevant parties, $3.5m dollars each year for four years can be directed to the Diamonds High-Performance Program."
The company also defended its track record on Indigenous rights, pointing to scholarships, training and employment it offers.
"Hancock has positive agreements with all the native title holders in the areas we operate in, providing very significant royalty payments to the traditional owners in all our mining areas, well in excess of $300 million in the last seven years alone," the company stated.
"Assuming Netball Australia is able to reach agreement with relevant parties, we look forward to working with Netball Australia and the Diamonds to support and provide more opportunities for many people, including young Indigenous people in the Pilbara, broader West Australia and Australia."
In the 1980s, Lang Hancock — who was the founder of Hancock Prospecting and the father of Gina Rinehart — made comments that suggested a plan that would kill off Indigenous people. 
ABC's 7.30 asked Hancock Prospecting what its reaction was to reports that players were concerned about the late Lang Hancock's views on Indigenous Australians, but it did not address this question in its response.
Ms Steel said that, while she could not speak on behalf of Indigenous Australians, she thought that the company should acknowledge its founder's previous remarks.
"When we reflect on what's come out of the Uluru Statement, [and] truth-telling, that's really about sort of expecting companies such as Hancock to put their hand up and say, 'Lang Hancock said some abhorrent things a while ago, we acknowledge they were very hurtful and harmful, and we can see from the player's reaction that that is still hurtful and harmful today to this day'," she said. 
"There's an apology that needs to be said."
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