Netball Australia’s embattled CEO, Kelly Ryan, has been here before – that uncomfortable place where it seems everywhere you turn is another dose of bad news.

She is doing a good job of remaining upbeat, but how long will that keep the murmurs from becoming howls?

Will she stay or will she go? Will she resign or will she be pushed?

This week alone Netball Australia has been hit with three issues.

The Collingwood Super Netball club confirming it was handing back its license at the end of the season.

Collingwood players, while recognising the club and the players are partially responsibility for their lack of success, have detailed their lack of confidence in the sport’s governing body claiming an “untenable dysfunction and disharmony” between players and administrators and “no confidence in the strategic direction of Netball Australia”.

Netball Australia CEO Kelly Ryan is in a difficult spot as major issues continue to strike at the heart of the sport.()

On the same day, the chairman of the Australian Netball Players Association, Geoff Parmenter, resigned – adding to the widely held view that the relationship between the player representative body and Netball Australia is currently unworkable.

As it stands every player, from all eight Super Netball teams, are off contract this September. None of them know what the future holds, despite the Netball Australia CEO remaining confident a new team will be in place to replace Collingwood.

Establishing a new team will cost money, which Netball Australia does not have much of. To be up and running before the next season begins means they will be short on time too.

Author of Code Wars – the battle for fans, dollars, and survival, Dr Hunter Fujak, told The Ticket netball’s current dilemma mirrors the battle rugby union has faced.

“The overall Super Netball competition is in a huge state of flux,” Dr Fujak said.

“There are probably parallels to the experience that rugby union has had over the last few years where once there’s a bit of negative momentum around the sport and certain elements start falling away the issues tend to pile on in terms of a bit of a death spiral, one might say.

“The concern for netball is that they are perhaps caught in one of these death spirals where there’s just a lot of negative implications building upon one another.”

Those challenges include fulfilling a broadcast contract guaranteeing an eight team competition, locating where a replacement team will come from, the mental health challenges for players from the Collingwood team who face unemployment, and more broadly for all the players who require certainty that the competition will survive.

An already tense relationship between playing group and administration was made worse seven months ago following the fallout over what Netball Australia viewed as a lifeline sponsorship deal which they had agreed to without consulting the players.

Mining magnate Gina Rinehart ended up pulling her multimillion-dollar Hancock Prospecting offer off the table when the players expressed their unease at wearing the company logo.

The national Diamonds team, at the time, included only the third First Nations player in the history of the sport. Lang Hancock, the founder of the mining company, said in a 1984 television interview that the “Indigenous problem” could be dealt with by sterilising them and breeding them out.

In a sport that had committed in 2020 to “build a robust strategy that improves our community’s engagement with First Nations People”, it failed at the first step.


The sponsorship withdrawal left Netball Australia millions of dollars in debt. The Victorian government stepped in to provide much needed funds and Netball Australia made enough cuts to its budget to return a small surplus of $300,000.

Ms Ryan highlighted the failed deal in the sport’s latest annual report:

“Total revenues were behind budget by $3.8m. This was primarily driven by not achieving the commercial sponsorship budget due to the widely reported events of the final quarter.”

In what might be considered as some good news for the sport this week, Netball Australia joined Australia’s other major sports codes in announcing they would support a Yes vote for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament referendum to be held later this year.

Unfortunately, unlike other sports, Netball Australia did not consult the playing group before making its announcement.

The players had organised briefing sessions in the coming weeks to learn more about the Voice, a position Netball Australia was aware of.

It is the players who front the media and will be asked why they support the Voice. Like many Australians, they have probably not yet decided which they will vote. Netball Australia has put them – unnecessarily – in a difficult position.

Unlike Australia’s major football codes with large numbers of Indigenous players, Netball’s elite competition has only one who plays regularly, and one other who plays as a reserve.

This is all playing out in the week that Super Netball will celebrate Indigenous round.

It is only the Queensland Firebirds that will have a First Nations player to cheer, begging the question, what is it Netball Australia is celebrating this weekend?

Netball’s Indigenous Advisory Committee is inactive and nobody from Netball Australia was available to discuss what achievements have been made since the sport’s 2020 “declaration of commitment” to improving Indigenous representation.

Two weeks ago, Netball Australia announced Wadjuk Noongar woman, Professor Cheryl Kickett-Tucker had been appointed to board.

Her knowledge and experience should be invaluable to a sport that has put all the right ticks in the right boxes. It is time for the sport to convert the symbolism to genuine change.

The question now is, how much time does Ms Ryan have to repair the broken relationship with the players? And, does the board have more confidence than the players in her ability to do so?

Netball Australia have declined to comment.