Deposed Netball Australia director and former chair Anne-Marie Corboy has warned against underestimating the threat posed by the AFL Women’s league in the newly-competitive national environment, while staying cautiously optimistic that the power play orchestrated by the state associations will not derail netball’s recent progress.
Speaking publicly for the first time about the divisive internal politics that have forced the involuntary departures of Corboy and former Australian captain Kathryn Harby-Williams from the board, the experienced businesswoman said governance reforms being driven by the Australian Sports Commission remained of critical importance.
“It’s very disappointing that this has played out over the last week, but maybe it’s a shake-up that was needed and it has shone the light on some things that need to be addressed in the sport,” Corboy told Fairfax Media. “Netball has had this great year and this little glitch that’s become public won’t detract from that.”
Corboy is supporting Paolina Hunt’s bid for re-election as chair at Friday’s board meeting – the first since last week’s AGM expanded the directorial power base of the state bodies led by chief agitators Netball Queensland and Netball NSW. She also urged the member organisations to take a broader view.
“I think there’s still a lack of understanding about the competitive environment in which netball is now operating,” Corboy said. “In fact one of the member organisation CEOs said to me ‘Well, we’re not really worried about AFL at all’, and I think that’s a demonstration that the MOs continue to see the world from their own state’s position and at times find it difficult to see the big picture. And of course Netball Australia is dealing with the big picture.”
Corboy, who succeeded long-time chair Noeleen Dix last April, said the genesis of the unrest came through the stalling of ASC-mandated constitutional reforms in early 2016, with the state associations deferring moves to abolish the role of president – now held by WA’s Robert Shaw – and angered by the drawn-out negotiations for a Super Netball broadcast deal.
“That put pressure on the organisations to be prepared for this year, and I think that’s where a lot of the tensions arose,” Corboy said, admitting the states’ full list of “gripes” included the admission of football club-owned teams, and even the competition’s fixture. “And when some personality issues came into it, that mix just created an environment where the Netball Australia board wasn’t able to prosecute its agenda in the way that we wanted to, and for me to prosecute my agenda as chair, because we were operating in that very tense – and, in fact, litigious – environment. There was a lot of correspondence between lawyers that was started by the member organisations.”
The states having rebuffed attempts to mediate, while citing dissatisfaction with Corboy’s leadership style, the former MCG Trustee stood down as chair last month. In a coup the Australian Netball Players’ Association condemned as “an inexcusable lack of judgment that only serves to satisfy self-interest”, she was then removed from her board role at a special general meeting without explanation or any suggestion she had breached her director’s duties.
Calling for the implementation of a unitary administration model that would abolish the state associations and redirect financial and personnel resources to the athletes, and keen to correct apparent misconceptions about netball’s funding arrangements and strategic priorities, Corboy believes the next 12 months will be “critical” to the sport’s future.
“We’ll see who is elected as chair on Friday and I think that will also be an indicator,” said Corboy, who hopes new chief executive Marne Fechner will be given the necessary board support to build on revenue, audience and participation growth that has accompanied the start of Super Netball. “I think that what’s lost in all of this is that netball has had one our best years ever … in the most competitive sports environment ever.”