In 2017, Australian cricket was abuzz with talk of the new memorandum of understanding between the playing group and Cricket Australia. Negotiations were fierce and protracted, with the revenue-sharing model the subject that most divided the two groups. Eventually the players and their union – the Australian Cricketers’ Association (ACA) – were able to secure an agreement that included the revenue-sharing arrangement. Play resumed.
So when the ACA heard word of the struggles Australia’s netballers were facing in their own collective playing agreement (CPA) negotiations with their governing body, the union decided to take action. The ACA initially offered resourcing support to the Australian Netball Players’ Association (ANPA), but when negotiations continued to drag on and players found themselves off contract, with no way of bringing in income, the ACA took the unprecedented step of offering financial support.
While the idea to create a “fighting fund” for netballers to access during this unexpected period of unemployment came from the executive level at the ACA, it has been fully supported by both the women’s and men’s playing group. Both see it as an important act of solidarity with their fellow athletes who are facing a similar struggle to their own in recent years.
ACA CEO Todd Greenberg believes the requests being put forward by ANPA are reasonable and that the players should not have to back down from their desire to share in the revenue they are generating for their sport.
“What is disappointing is that the netballers’ requests are modest and affordable for the sport,” he said. “The ACA believes they should be given the same partnership opportunities as our players – the same opportunities that has seen cricket thrive. The ACA stands with the netballers and will continue to do so until this campaign is successful.”
While athletes from one sport have sometimes spoken out in the past to offer support for their counterparts in another sport during periods of negotiation, never before has there been a financial offer of support from one playing group to another. It is a most unusual act of solidarity, but one that is greatly appreciated by ANPA.
“Australian netballers are brave and resilient people,” said ANPA CEO and former Australian Diamonds captain Kathryn Harby-Williams. “When your minimum wage is $40,000 you have to show a lot of courage to take a stand. That’s why this expression of support is so welcome. It lets the netballers know they are not alone.”
The Diamonds won the Netball World Cup in July this year and are currently leading the Constellation Cup against New Zealand with two games left to be played. Super Netball is widely regarded as the best netball competition in the world, with players from Jamaica, England, South Africa, Malawi and Trinidad and Tobago coming to Australia to test themselves against the world’s best. On the court, the sport is flourishing, but these off court battles have continuously plagued netball.
Speaking on the ABC’s Offsiders on Sunday, Australian cricket captain Alyssa Healy said she struggled to correlate the on-court success with the off-court challenges, especially after attending the Diamonds’ Constellation Cup match in Melbourne last week.
“I was there the other night, I was watching the game, I was a fan of the game,” she said. “I’m sitting there, I’m watching 10,000 people there, sponsors everywhere. The product amazing, the line to the merchandise out the door. Netball has got to have money. Surely there’s got to be money coming in. I refuse to believe it’s a poor sport at the moment…As a female athlete, watching netball go through that makes me really sad.”
It is now approaching three weeks since all netballers’ contracts expired and players ceased being paid by their clubs, but do not yet have the ability to sign contracts for the 2024 season. It does not appear the situation will be resolved in the immediate future. Last week, ANPA called for mediation, which Netball Australia initially pushed back on, stating it would further delay the process. However in the absence of further progress, mediation is reportedly now in the works, with the first step being both parties agreeing on a mediator.
In the meantime, access to the “fighting fund” set up by the ACA will assist netballers in making ends meet until new contracts are able to be rolled out. Particularly for the players at the lower end of pay scale, many of whom are already balancing university studies with professional sport, this will be vital in keeping them afloat.