‘We have to own it’: Netball Australia to put lack of diversity in spotlight

Netball Australia chief executive Marne Fechner admits netball's pathways fail to nurture Indigenous athletes, with a full review into the sport's lack of diversity set to be delivered in October.

Before Super Netball's Indigenous Round, Fechner said the organisation recognised growing criticism of the game's 'whiteness'. A review looking at the barriers Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander netballers face when trying to reach the elite level is under way.

Queensland Firebird Jemma Mi Mi has been the only Indigenous player in Super Netball for the past two years.Credit:Getty

Queensland Firebird Jemma Mi Mi has been the only Indigenous player among the eight Super Netball teams for the past two years. Just two Indigenous players have worn the Diamonds dress, Sharon Finnan-White and Marcia Ella-Duncan.

"Participation rates sit at around 4 per cent of our netball community, which is great as it means we are sitting on par in term of population," Fechner said. "But what we are not seeing is those athletes coming through the system.

"We've made a commitment to Sharon [Finnan-White] and Marcia [Ella-Duncan] that we are not comfortable with the fact we haven't seen Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Diamonds for a while … we want it to be better."

On Wednesday, Swifts coach Briony Akle urged Netball Australia to create more pathways to increase diversity and said it was time for an Indigenous player to again represent Australia.

It is clear there is an impediment for these [Indigenous] girls.

In response, Fechner said the governing body was unsure whether a lack of pathways was the problem. Netball Australia is hoping the reasons for the lack of diversity will be revealed in its State of the Game review.

"We don't understand what the blockages are," she said. "It is clear there is an impediment for these [Indigenous] girls. It's not a question of they are not talented, that's like saying women aren't good enough to be CEOs, it's illogical and it's not true.

"What is it in our high-performance pathways that obviously isn't nurturing and providing an opportunity for Indigenous athletes to thrive?"

The State of the Game review was announced in July with the aim of resetting the sport’s strategy after the effects of COVID-19.

The review will be undertaken by an independent panel chaired by Liz Ellis and will look at growing strategies before the next home World Cup, which will likely be held in 2027.

In July, Queensland Firebirds star and Jamaican shooter Romelda Aiken said she was disappointed by the game's lack of support for the Black Lives Matter movement, arguing players of colour had to push the code to take a stand on the issue.

Fechner said netball "had to own" its lack of understanding in the area and recognise "where in the system we are breaking down".

"Netball, in its roots, is about belonging and team and celebrating what is happening in our community, and that shouldn't be closed off to anybody," Fechner said.

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