Liz Ellis: Australian netball could 'destroy itself from the inside'

Former Australian netball captain Liz Ellis is unhappy at the proposed overthrow of the Netball Australia board.

Former Australian netball captain Liz Ellis is unhappy at the proposed overthrow of the Netball Australia board.

Former Australian netball captain Liz Ellis writes of her pain at seeing the move that could potentially derail the sport in her country.

OPINION: This column should not be about netball politics.  Rather it should be about how excited I am about the resumption of Suncorp Super Netball after the Easter break.

About how there are two massive double-headers on this weekend.  About how each game has a massive bearing on the ladder.  About how we only have six weeks to finals.

Kathryn Harby-Williams, left, and Liz Ellis in their playing days.

Kathryn Harby-Williams, left, and Liz Ellis in their playing days.

Instead I find myself writing about a situation that has arisen in our sport that is breathtakingly short-sighted, and that is the move by the state bodies to engineer an overthrow of the Netball Australia board. It began with the removal of the highly respected Anne-Marie Corboy from the board in a special general meeting last week, and will likely continue at the AGM this week. 

While there were rumblings about Corboy's leadership style, her record as a director stands for itself. Now the sport has a gaping hole to fill at board level of a woman regularly listed in Australia's top 100 women of influence.  None of the candidates to fill her position come close to her ability.

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It gets worse. There are moves afoot to oust former Diamonds captain Kathryn Harby-Williams, despite her expertise as someone with extensive experience in high performance sport, grassroots netball, broadcast and business -  four things that are the bedrock of any sports organisation.

Harby-Williams is a noted advocate for the players, so it is no surprise that the Australian Netball Players Association have come out strongly in support. To that end the players need to be applauded for their conviction that their sport deserves the best when it comes to how the game is governed.

That is not to say that the states don't have legitimate gripes.  The decision by the NA board to push ahead with the establishment of Suncorp Super Netball this year, despite the misgivings of some of the state organisations – especially around the introduction of independently owned teams - is one. The states feel that in the rush to set up Suncorp Super Netball they at times have not been listened to.  There is also some concern that the state bodies may not see much return on their investment in the league in the short term.

All valid concerns which need to be addressed, but none that justify the current action, which jeopardises the huge gains made by the sport in recent years.

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In my 37-year involvement with netball, I can't recall netball being in a better place.  Participation rates have stayed steady despite the increased competition for the grassroots from other sports.  Netball's pathways for its talented players and officials are world best. The Diamonds are Australia's best sports team, and its players are household names.  

Best of all Suncorp Super Netball, as the flagship for the sport, is a huge success. With the backing of Channel Nine and blue-chip sponsors, the sport has finally moved to take its place as an entertainment product.  The best players are fully professional, something that was a pipedream just a decade ago. Yet this is under threat, along with landmark maternity provisions that the sport can rightly crow about.

It is painful to watch my sport, which has worked so hard to get to this point, potentially destroy itself from the inside. What this whole situation shows is the urgent need for reform at the constitutional level. The NA board must be able to make decisions for the best interests of netball nationally, rather than be beholden to the interests of the state bodies, which, while important, cannot be able to drive the agenda.

Netball has traditionally been regarded as a poster child for good governance by the Australian Sports Commission. Now it stands to be an outlier, with the Australian Sports Commission keeping a close eye on proceedings this week given its annual A$3 million investment in the sport. You have to assume that every other business and organisation with skin in the game is doing the same. Let those who are about to cast their votes this week beware.


 - Sydney Morning Herald

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