BRISBANE, Australia (AP) – Athletes in two of Australia’s most popular sports – cricket and netball – have criticized millions of dollars in sponsorship from mining and energy companies.
Much of this relates to environmental concerns. In another case from athletes who spoke out, an Indigenous netball player questioned a mining company’s sponsorship over its founder’s racist comments about Aboriginal people in Australia in the 1980s.
Athletes have openly invoked injustice and sports laundering by some governments and regimes.
This week, national cricket captain Pat Cummins didn’t hesitate to call for more climate-conscious corporate partners for his sport. A recent wage agreement between the players’ union and Cricket Australia allows players to decline endorsement of certain brands for “reasonable personal or reasonable professional reasons”.
“Not just us players, every organization has a responsibility to do what’s right for the sport, but also what they think is right for the organization,” Cummins said. “I hope that as society moves forward there is a balance where you make decisions about who you welcome into the cricket family.”
Cummins had previously raised concerns with CA chief executive Nick Hockley over the fact that Cricket Australia sponsor Alinta Energy’s parent company, Pioneer Sail Holdings, was listed as one of Australia’s largest carbon emitters.
Cricket Australia acknowledged it had agreed to end a deal worth nearly A$40 million (US$25 million), but said it was due to “a change in its branding strategy” by the energy company.
“CA confirms that at no time has a conversation between Pat Cummins, the men’s team captain, and Nick Hockley, CA CEO, influenced Alinta’s decision to end its sponsorship with Cricket Australia in June 2023,” said Cricket Australia in an explanation.
The issue was five years in the making. A clause was added to the current memorandum of understanding between the players and Cricket Australia, signed in 2017, after Usman Khawaja and Fawad Ahmed first objected to the wearing of alcohol-logoed uniforms almost a decade ago because of their Muslim faith. At the heart of the controversy was a beer company’s logo on a uniform when Fawad made his debut for Australia.
“I think it’s always been a balance,” Cummins told Australian media when he confirmed he would no longer appear in television commercials for the energy company. “We’ve seen certain players make decisions based on their religion or maybe certain foods they eat don’t work with certain partners, but we really thank all of our partners for everything they do.”
Netball is the most popular team sport for women and girls across Australia and is played on a similar pitch to basketball but with seven players on each team and more restrictive rules.
The sport’s national governing body is working on a compromise with Indigenous player Donnell Wallam after he confirmed his sponsorship deal with mining company Hancock Prospecting.
Wallam, a Noongar woman from the state of Western Australia who now plays for the Queensland-based Firebirds in the top domestic league, expressed concern about Netball Australia’s four-year A$15 million (US$9.5 million) sponsorship dollars) with billionaire Gina Rinehart’s company.
Wallam questioned Hancock Prospecting’s record of indigenous affairs dating back to Rinehart’s late father, Lang Hancock. In a 1984 television interview, he suggested giving some tribal peoples contaminated water so they could be sterilized and “outbred.”
Wallam, who is expected to become the first Indigenous player to represent the Australian Diamonds in more than 20 years later this month, was reluctant to wear the new sponsor logo. She considered applying for a waiver, as other athletes have done, when a sponsor does not align with their faith or religion, but the issue drew national attention when her teammates chose to join her.
Both Netball Australia and national team captain Liz Watson have expressed their support for Hancock Prospecting, with the deal securing the future of the sports organization which has suffered heavy losses over two years during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As players, we know Hancock is such a great investment for our program,” Watson told the Australian Associated Press.
But Watson said they also wanted to show support for their team-mate.
“We support her cultural sensibilities around the program, around the partnership, and we want her to be herself and feel comfortable and empowered,” Watson said.
Newly elected independent senator and former Australian rugby captain David Pocock, who is a partner with Cummins on climate change initiatives, backed the cricket captain’s stance.
“The sport is already feeling the effects of climate change, with extreme heat, bushfire smoke and flooding causing match cancellations and delays, as well as player and spectator welfare issues,” Pocock said.
And the movement is growing. A group of high-profile fans of the Fremantle Dockers Australian Football League team, as well as former Fremantle star Dale Kickett, have urged the club to divest oil and gas giant Woodside Energy as its main sponsor.
In an open letter to Dockers board and President Dale Alcock, the signatories said it was no longer appropriate for a fossil fuel company to sponsor the club as the world battled climate change.
“We should not allow our club’s good name to be used by a company to improve its reputation when its core activities so clearly threaten our planet,” they said.
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