Sponsorships questioned by leading Australian athletes

Oct 18, 2022, 5:55 AM | Updated: 5:57 pm
Australia's Pat Cummins, left, celebrates with teammate after the dismissal of India's captain Rohi...

Australia's Pat Cummins, left, celebrates with teammate after the dismissal of India's captain Rohit Sharma during the third T20 cricket match between India and Australia, in Hyderabad, India, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A)

(AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A)

              FILE - Australia's Tim Paine, left, talks with bowler Pat Cummins during play on day three of the fourth cricket test between India and Australia at the Gabba, Brisbane, Australia, on Jan. 17, 2021. Paine made a return to first-class cricket, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022, for the first time in 18 months since he quit as test skipper after after a scandal involving explicit text messages he sent to a co-worker in 2017. (AP Photo/Tertius Pickard, File)
            
              Australia's Pat Cummins, left, celebrates with teammate after the dismissal of India's captain Rohit Sharma during the third T20 cricket match between India and Australia, in Hyderabad, India, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A)

BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — Athletes in two of Australia’s most popular sports — cricket and netball — are criticizing millions of dollars of sponsorship money from mining and energy companies.

Much of it involves environmental concerns. In another case of athletes speaking out, an Indigenous netball player has questioned sponsorship by a mining company because of racist remarks in the 1980s by its founder about Aboriginal people in Australia.

Athletes have openly called out injustices and sportswashing by some governments and regimes.

This week national cricket captain Pat Cummins had no hesitation in calling for more climate-conscious corporate partners for his sport. A recent pay agreement between the players’ union and Cricket Australia allows players to decline to endorse certain brands on “reasonable personal or reasonable professional grounds.”

“Not just us players, but every organization has a responsibility to do what is right for the sport but also what they think is the right thing for the organization,” Cummins said. “I hope society when it moves forward, it’s a balance where you make decisions about who you’re going to welcome into the cricket family.”

Cummins had previously raised concerns with CA’s chief executive Nick Hockley over the fact that Cricket Australia sponsor Alinta Energy’s parent company, Pioneer Sail Holdings, has been listed as one of Australia’s highest carbon emitters.

Cricket Australia acknowledged that it had agreed to end a deal worth almost 40 million Australian dollars ($25 million), but said it was because of “a change in its brand strategy” by the energy company.

“CA confirms that at no point did any conversation between men’s team captain Pat Cummins and CA CEO Nick Hockley influence Alinta’s decision to finish its sponsorship with Cricket Australia in June 2023,” Cricket Australia said in a statement.

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 objections first raised by Usman Khawaja and Fawad Ahmed almost a decade ago about wearing uniforms emblazoned with alcohol logos on the basis of their Muslim faith. At the center of the controversy was a beer company 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 wouldn’t be appearing in future TV advertising for the energy company. “We’ve seen certain players make decisions based on religion, or maybe certain foods they eat, they won’t partner with specific partners, but we really thank all our partners for everything they do.”

Netball is the most popular team sport for women and girls across Australia, played on a similar court to basketball but with seven players on each team and more restrictive rules.

The sport’s national governing body is working to reach a compromise with Indigenous player Donnell Wallam after re-affirming its sponsorship deal with mining company Hancock Prospecting.

Wallam, a Noongar woman from Western Australia state who now plays for the Queensland-based Firebirds in the top-flight national league, raised concerns about Netball Australia’s four-year, 15 million Australian dollar ($9.5 million) sponsorship with billionaire Gina Rinehart’s company.

Wallam took issue with Hancock Prospecting’s record on Indigenous matters, which date to Rinehart’s late father Lang Hancock. He proposed in a 1984 television interview that some Indigenous people be given contaminated water so they could be sterilized and “breed themselves out.”

Wallam, who later this month is expected to become the first Indigenous player to represent the Australian Diamonds in more than 20 years, was reluctant to wear the new sponsor’s logo. She was considering seeking an exemption, as other athletes have done when a sponsor doesn’t align with their beliefs or religion, however the issue raised national attention when her teammates opted to stand with her.

Both Netball Australia and national team captain Liz Watson have voiced their support for Hancock Prospecting, with the deal securing the future of the sports organization which sustained heavy losses over two years during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As players we do know that Hancock is such a great investment for our program,” Watson told Australian Associated Press.

But Watson said they also wanted to show support for their teammate.

“We’re supporting her cultural sensitivities around the program, around the partnership, and we want her to be herself and feel comfortable and strong,” Watson said.

Newly-elected Independent senator and former Australian rugby captain David Pocock, who has partnered with Cummins on climate change initiatives, backed the cricket captain’s stance.

“Sport is already feeling the impact of climate change with extreme heat, bushfire smoke and flooding leading to cancellations and delays of matches as well as player and spectator welfare issues,” Pocock said.

And the movement is growing. A group of high-profile fans from the Fremantle Dockers Australian Football League team as well as former Fremantle star Dale Kickett have called on the club to dump oil and gas giant Woodside Energy as its major sponsor.

In an open letter to the 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 fought climate change.

“We should not allow our club’s good name to be used by a corporation to enhance its reputation when its core activities are so clearly threatening our planet,” they said.

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