The Australian Olympic Committee has no plans to sever ties with Hancock Prospecting, as other sports which benefit from sponsorship deals with Gina Rinehart’s company also stand their ground amid controversy surrounding the mining giant’s short-lived sponsorship of Netball Australia.
Hancock this weekend pulled out of a $15m deal with Netball Australia after player concerns were raised over the company’s record on Indigenous matters. In 1984 Rinehart’s father, Lang Hancock, the founder of Hancock Prospecting, suggested Indigenous Australians be sterilised to “breed themselves out”. Diamonds players also discussed Hancock’s environmental credentials.
The initial pushback and subsequent U-turn over the deal has shone a light on the at times fraught issue of sponsorships in sport.
But the AOC on Tuesday confirmed it had not had any discussions in light of the Netball Australia saga, nor did it have any intention of dropping Hancock as a sponsor.
Earlier this year, Hancock struck a deal to sponsor the Australian Olympic team until 2026, while the company also has individual sponsorship arrangements with a number of other sports including swimming, volleyball, rowing and synchronised swimming.
The revenue from these types of deals is considered essential to the survival and success of the Australian Olympic team, with funds helping foot the huge bill for sending teams to competitions. They also support individual athletes, provide medal incentive funding and fund community activities such as Indigenous programs.
Rowing Australia, Volleyball Australia and Swimming Queensland – also beneficiaries of sponsorship deals with Hancock – responded to the issues highlighted by the netball players’ revolt with continued support for Rinehart and her company.
Rowing Australia’s CEO, Ian Robson, said the deal that has been in place with his organisation since 2015 and provided direct funding to athletes has “transformed” its high-performance program.
“RA’s athlete group, as evidenced by recent public statements, is very much appreciative of the support that they receive from Mrs Rinehart and Hancock Prospecting and are completely supportive of our partnership,” Robson said.
“We hope that our partnership continues well into the future through to Brisbane 2032 and beyond.”
When contacted after Hancock’s withdrawal from the netball deal, Swimming Queensland CEO, Kevin Hasemann, said he had nothing further to add to the statement given last week, when he said his organisation “is proud of its longstanding partnership with Mrs Gina Rinehart and Hancock Prospecting”.
CEO of Volleyball Australia, Craig Carracher, whose organisation has been in partnership with Rinehart and Hancock for nearly 10 years – said he was “surprised” by the concerns raised by the netball players and that Rinehart deserved “accolades” not criticism.
The AOC said it was not aware of any athletes who have received support from Hancock raising concerns over the sponsorship deal, but “any athlete is free to raise their views”. It is a stance shared by Swimming Australia, whose athletes are now funded directly by Hancock after the company ended a partnership with the body 12 months ago.
“We have, and continue to welcome, an open dialogue with our athletes on any and all matters related to the high performance program,” an SA spokesperson said.