Netball Australia: Pay dispute taking toll on players says former Diamonds captain

Australia celebrate winning World Cup in South Africa
Australia beat England to win a 12th World Cup in August

Players in Australia’s domestic netball league have “slept in their cars” as a pay dispute continues, former Diamonds captain Kathryn Harby-Williams says.

Governing body Netball Australia (NA) have not paid players since September, when their last contract expired.

Harby-Williams, the chief executive of the Australian Netball Players’ Association (ANPA), said they are “desperate” to strike a deal.

Australia’s Super Netball League is considered to be the best in the world.

England’s Eleanor Cardwell and Helen Housby play in the eight-team league, while former Roses head coach Tracey Neville is also affected after being appointed coach of the new Melbourne Mavericks franchise.

While the dispute has come to a head since the collective contract expired in September, players have been trying to make a deal on pay with NA, who oversee salaries in the league, since February.

The players have proposed a revenue-share model that would mean 15% of any money generated from new sponsorship deals above what is forecast would go to the players.

NA say any form of revenue share is not viable and the governing body are due to meet with the ANPA on Friday to try to reach a solution.

On Wednesday, they proposed an immediate offer to players, which included a 11% pay rise over a three-year term, back-dated to 1 October, and a promise to continue negotiating the revenue-sharing component.

NA chief executive Kelly Ryan said in a statement the offer “would allow players to be paid immediately, while we continue negotiations with ANPA on building a financial model for the league”.

She added: “We hope this will provide all parties the certainty and stability they seek.” 

The offer was rejected by the players, with Harby-Williams labelling it a “publicity stunt”.

In a media conference on Wednesday, Australia defender and ANPA president Jo Weston broke down in tears and Harby-Williams said it showed the “emotional toll” the situation is taking on players.

“We are desperate to get a deal done for these players,” she said.

“I have had players sobbing and weeping, players have slept in their cars, players have had to move out of their homes and move across the country back to families.

“That’s the toll that this is taking on these players.”

NA treating athletes with ‘callous disregard’

Australia are the dominant force in world netball, with a record 12 World Cups and four Commonwealth gold medals, while their domestic league attracts the best players as the only fully professional league in the world.

The ongoing pay dispute leaves Super Netball franchises unable to contract players until an agreement is done, meaning no teams in the league have announced their squads for the 2024 season, which starts in April.

Ryan said the governing body had “listened to the players and their need for financial certainty right now”.

However, former Australia captain Liz Ellis said NA had treated the players with “callous disregard” after they were threatened with legal action if they did not attend an awards dinner on Saturday.

The Diamonds, who won the World Cup in Cape Town in August, said they planned to boycott the awards ceremony with the pay dispute still ongoing, but NA said they would take legal action if they did not attend.

Ellis posted on Instagram: “I can not believe that the governing body of the sport I love would treat its Diamonds athletes, who are brilliant role models and ambassadors for netball, with such callous disregard.

“These are women who have not been paid in eight weeks. Who are fighting for fair pay and conditions not only for themselves but for the players who come after them.

“Who consider themselves custodians of the game. And who I suspect would love nothing more than to attend an event where their world-beating heroics of the past 12 months were to be celebrated.

“Yet who felt so strongly about what they were fighting for, that they were prepared to forego celebrations.”

On Channel 10’s The Project, she expressed concerns a deal would never be reached because the relationship was now “poisoned”.

The pay dispute comes after mining company Hancock Prospecting pulled a sponsorship deal with NA worth 15m Australian dollars ($9.92, £7.85). It followed Donell Wallam, the Australia squad’s only Aboriginal player, privately raising concerns about the company’s Indigenous record.

Tourism company Visit Victoria stepped in as sponsor, replacing the lost funds, but NA announced earlier this year they are A$4.2m in debt, having been unable to fully recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.

NA could also miss out on A$18 million ($11.9m, £9.42m) https://elementlagu.com in public funding after the Australian government said it had not received a satisfactory business case for the money.

Melbourne-based club Collingwood Magpies also withdrew from the Super Netball League at the end of the season, citing NA’s financial plight as a major reason behind the decision. The Mavericks subsequently replaced the Magpies.

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