Support players taking a stand against racism, for climate action

Noongar woman Donnell Wallam. Photo: Suncorp Super Netball

A number of Australian athletes and sporting fans are taking a stand against racism and fossil fuel corporation’s sponsorship of sports.

The Australian woman’s netball team, the Diamonds, has come out in support of Noongar woman Donnell Wallam, who is only the third First Nations woman to play for Australia.

Wallam was seeking an exemption from having to wear the corporate logo of Hancock Prospecting, in the Diamonds series against England. This was her protest at the racism of the company’s founder, Lang Hancock.

Hancock Prospecting is now owned by Lang’s daughter, Australia’s richest woman Gina Rinehart, worth $31 billion. Hancock Prospecting and the Australian Diamonds announced a $15 million “high performance program partnership” in September.

Hancock said in a 1984 televised interview that for Aborigines that were not compliant, “the half-castes”, “where most of the trouble comes”, he would “dope the water up so they were sterile and breed themselves out and that would solve the problem”.

Wallam’s teammates stated their support for her stance, saying on October 22 it was “in line with the 2020 Declaration of Commitment made by a coalition of Australia’s peak organisations”.

This historic statement was made on September 29, 2020 after that year's Indigenous round of the Super Netball Competition when Queensland Firebirds player Waka Waka woman Jemma Mi Mi, the only First Nations player in the competition, was left on the bench for her team’s game against the Melbourne Vixens.

“A coalition of netball’s peak organisations has pledged 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,” the declaration said.

Importantly, it requires “the entire netball system to understand and then resolve the issue of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander under-representation at elite levels”.

Conscientious objection

Wallam’s teammates supported her request to be exempt from wearing the Hancock logo on her jersey, in line with their commitment to break down barriers for First Nations sportspeople. They supported her conscientious objection.

But Netball Australia (NA) was unwilling to grant Wallam an exemption and, under intense pressure, Wallam said on October 21 she was willing to wear the logo.

Rinehart has refused to distance herself or condemn her father’s racist comments. She cancelled the $15 million sponsorship saying, unconvincingly, she “did not wish to add to Netball’s disunity problems”.

Rinehart has a history of doing exactly what she hypocritically accused Wallam and her teammates of doing — “virtual signalling”. She has used her inherited wealth to push her right-wing ideology and climate denialism.

Rinehart’s sponsorship of sporting entities is her way of buying “social licence”. It is not being done from the goodness of her heart, as the establishment media frames it.

7News was gushing in its on October 24 report on Hancock Prospecting’s “generous seven-figure cheque” — $1 million donation — to its annual Telethon event to raise money for sick and vulnerable children.

In fact it was Hancock Prospecting’s employees who dipped into their bonuses for this donation.

But, 7News and others continue to laud Rinehart for supporting Australian sport while painting Wallam and her teammates as “ungrateful”.

However Wallam and her teammates have received a lot of support from athletes including former Australian basketballer Andrew Gaze and boxer Anthony Mundine, who condemned Lang Hancock’s racism and urged NA to stand by Wallam.

Fremantle Dockers challenge Woodside

Another challenge to corporate sports washing is the ongoing campaign by prominent Fremantle Dockers fans to get the Australian Football League (AFL) club to end its 13-year association with the fossil fuel corporation Woodside Energy.

Former Western Australian Labor Premier Carmen Lawrence, author Tim Winton, ex-player Dale Kickett and the club’s inaugural football manager Gerard McNeill published an open letter on October 19 calling on the club to act.

“It is no longer appropriate to have a fossil fuel company as our major sponsor moving forward,” the open letter said. “As loyal Fremantle members and supporters, it pains us to see the club we adore partnering with a company that clearly does not align with our team’s values.”

Woodside is funding Australia’s largest fossil fuel project in a decade: the $16 billion Scarborough to Pluto gas project, off the WA coast. Climate Analytics said the total greenhouse gas implications of the entire Scarborough-Pluto project, including its associated and interlinked projects, undermines Australia’s commitment to the Paris Agreement to keep warming under 1.5°C.

Another recent challenge to corporate sports washing came from Australian Men’s Cricket test captain Pat Cummins, who pushed to end Cricket Australia’s (CA) $40 million sponsorship deal with energy company Alinta.

Alinta Energy, founded in Australia and now owned by a Hong-Kong based consortium, was listed in 2019 as one of Australia’s highest greenhouse gas emitters with gas-fired power stations across the country.

CA said on October 18 that it would not renew the sponsorship with Alinta beyond June next year. Alinta cancelled its sponsorship deal the same day.

Cummins has spoken out in support of players calling for climate action. He, along with Steve Smith, David Warner, Mitchell Starc, Marnus Labuschagne, Rachael Haynes and Alyssa Healy, is part of the Cricket for Climate campaign, which has as its aim to “protect the future of our game, and our planet, for generations to come” by equipping grassroots clubs with solar panels.

Cummins insists that players have a role in deciding which organisations they wanted to be associated with.

Support players taking a stand for community

It is important to support players taking a stand against racism for climate action.

Those who protest that “activist” athletes are “mixing sports with politics” in fact support a different type of politics — one that does not challenge the status quo.

Corporations and governments have a long history of sports washing: from the Nazi regime’s staging of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the Qatari regime’s staging of the upcoming FIFA world cup, or corporate sports washing of sporting organisations.

But sports activism has a long and proud history in leading the charge in the fight for better world. Athletes such as United States baseball player Jackie Robinson, boxer Muhammad Ali, track and field athlete and football player John Carlos, sprinter Tommy Smith, Australian sprinter Peter Norman, AFL players Nicky Winmar and Adam Goodes, US tennis player Billie Jean King, US women’s soccer player Megan Rapinoe have all taken a stand for community values.

The protests organised against the apartheid South African regime’s sporting tours were also significant in changing the public’s views on racism.

Those brave players demanding that their club not be used to enhance the reputation of corporations, which are clearly acting against science or today’s social values, should lead to a discussion about why sports bodies have to ask billionaires and corporations for sponsorships.

If Hancock Prospecting and Woodside were adequately taxed, Australian sports would be easily funded.

The sporting arena, like every other arena, is a contested space. Athletes and fans should use the space to take a stand for a better world.

Postscript: Wallam slotted the winning goal in the first series against England on October 26, the same night as she became the first Indigenous player to represent the Diamonds in 22 years.