In response to heavy criticism for benching Super Netball’s only Indigenous player in the Indigenous round, Netball Australia held a press conference on Tuesday to announce a ‘declaration of commitment’ to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players.
The declaration by 20 national, state and territory-based organisations promises to “take significant action to break down the barriers that have prevented Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players, coaches, umpires and administrators from flourishing in the sport.”
Among them is the Queensland Firebirds, whose explanation for benching Waka Waka woman Jemma Mi Mi for the Indigenous round - despite using her to promote the event, and Mi Mi being the only Indigenous player in any of Super Netball’s eight teams - prompted criticism from fans.
Head Coach Roselee Jencke said the decision to leave Ms Mi Mi off the court was “strategic” in a statement that both revealed "cultural awareness" provided by Ms Mi MI to the team, and led to the amplification of former players' stories of racial discrimination within the sport.
Among those detailing their negative experiences was former elite netballer Helena Saunders, the first Indigenous player for the Queensland Firebirds, who wrote an op-ed for online media platform IndigenousX.
"I don't actually want an apology, I want things to change," Ms Saunders later told NITV.
Celeste Carnegie also spoke of her experiences in an op-ed for IndigenousX titled 'Racism ended my netball career before it even began.'
“We acknowledge that netball hasn’t fully addressed the barriers that confront Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in our system, and we apologise for this,” the declaration read, “We know it is unacceptable to have only one Aboriginal player within the Suncorp Super Netball league, but our challenge as a sport goes far beyond what happened to one player in a single game.”
“Today, Netball Australia, Suncorp Super Netball, Member Organisations, SSN Clubs, the Australian Netball Players Association and the Confident Girls Foundation have committed to the change required in our pathways from grassroots to the Origin Diamonds – a change that will only be achieved in true partnership with netball’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.”
Tuesday's announcement has been praised as "a good step forward".
The first step for the declaration commitment will focus on “understanding further the experiences of players, coaches, umpires and administrators in our system, identifying the barriers to greater Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation and creating sustainable change plans,” along with tracking and reporting on the changes made.
The first report will come in October, showing the ‘State of the Game’ review findings.
The development of “strategy framework” to make the promised changes will be lead by Marcia Ella-Duncan, Sharon Finnan-White, Stacey Campton, and Ali Tucker-Munro.