The controversy surrounding Gina Rinehart and Netball Australia has divided Australians and prompted a discussion about sponsorship of Australian sport.
It also raises the question of why Rinehart chose to sponsor Swimming Australia and Netball Australia in particular.
Hancock Group currently sponsors:
Synchronised Swimming Australia
Netball Australia (until current agreement ceases)
West Coast Fever (until current agreement ceases)
Netball WA (until current agreement ceases)
Australian Olympic Committee
It was suggested on this very site that Rinehart sponsors water-based sports such as swimming and rowing because she knows that Australia will be underwater in the near future due to the burning of fossil fuels, and that she wants all Australians to be strong swimmers or be capable of handling water craft in order to survive rising sea levels.
But that was a satirical article.
There are other reasons Rinehart sponsors swimming and netball.
They were desperate
Swimming Australia credits Rinehart with helping it out of financial difficulty when she started sponsoring the association. Netball Australia was in debt.
Hancock Prospecting essentially acknowledges this fact, via an article in The West Australian, on its own website:
“What is interesting about these arrangements is that all the sports listed are far from flush with cash and the focus is on supporting the athletes.
Some of these athletes would be lucky to be paid minimum wage and often require a second job to support themselves while training full-time.
These sports don’t have mega TV rights deals in place and the “return on investment” in brand awareness to Hancock Prospecting would be arguable.
Sport needs more people like Mrs Rinehart.”
Rinehart and her advisors recognised the desperation of the associations and offered money knowing they simply could not refuse. This was a deliberate, calculated decision designed to use her considerable wealth to repair the image of her unethical corporation. Rinehart saw two vulnerable organisations and ruthlessly aligned her company with them.
Netball has a very clean, family-friendly image and is the most popular participation sport for females in Australia. Swimming shares a similar image. Apart from a few wayward stars such as Grant Hackett, swimming has never suffered the reputational damage inflicted by the countless scandals involving NRL and AFL players. From memory, not one elite netballer has ever been involved in an off-field scandal.
Swimming, and particularly netball, as very safe sports with which to associate a brand. Rinehart and her people know this.
Both sports are synonymous with Australia. Most foreigners assume that every Australian is a champion swimmer because of our continued success on the international stage. Australia was also the best netball team in the world (alongside New Zealand) until very, very recently when teams such as England and Jamaica became stronger (after sending many of their players to the Australian professional league).
Netball and swimming are central to Australian culture and identity. Rinehart and her people know this.
Many Australians believe Rinehart sponsored the sports for altruistic reasons. Out of patriotism, love of sport, respect for athletes and a desire to help.
At no point was this an altruistic decision. Anyone who thinks so has been ‘sportswashed’ by Hancock Group.
This was a business decision.
As some observers have pointed out, if Rinehart had sponsored the netball team out of altruism, she would not have demanded her logo on their jerseys, and would not have withdrawn sponsorship when the players refused to wear it.
Proof that many Australians have been sportswashed can be found in the comments directed at the Diamonds players and anyone who agreed with their protest. Comments sprang from the following beliefs:
Without Gina these sports will go broke – Many even used the term “go woke and go broke”
Without Gina the athletes will go broke
Without Gina Australian athletes will never win Olympic medals
Without Gina Aussie teams won’t win major trophies
Without Gina the sport won’t exist
The comments suggest that many Australians empathise with Rinehart, and not the country’s best netballers. The sponsorship worked. The sportwashing was successful.
The response to my articles and the actions of the netballers suggests that many Australians believe Aussie sporting success is more important than protecting the planet. For many Aussies, being able to to watch Aussies playing sport is more important than protecting the planet.
This is why Rinehart chose to sponsor netball and swimming.
Image: Patrick Hamilton