Questions must be asked of Collingwood's funding and where to now for Super Netball

Magpies head coach Nicole Richardson speaks with her players. Albert Perez/Getty Images

Last week, the Australian netball community was brought to a standstill when Collingwood announced it was withdrawing its licence from the Super Netball competition, with an exit scheduled at the end of the 2023 season.

Following recent reports about the financial viability of a franchise facing up to a reported $1 million per year of losses, this news may not have been a surprise. But it still felt like a body blow and left plenty questioning, where to from here?

The decision has impacted many; administrators, staff, players, coaches and fans.

It's left many feeling sad, hurt and frustrated including a playing group that shared their own statement in response. But it has also left plenty of people angry and in my view, rightly so.

It's clear to everyone that Collingwood could have done better when it came to establishing and running its netball team.

Former assistant and head coach of Collingwood netball Rob Wright acknowledges that his time at the club was disastrous and that he never should have been there in the first place. Others have alleged that while the netball program was well resourced in some areas, it was pushed to the brink in others and constantly competing with a better resourced football department. Several star players including Sharni Norder [nee Layton], Kim Ravaillion and Caitlin Thwaites came to the club but failed to thrive.

Then there were the governance challenges. Collingwood was unique in that it was one of the only Super Netball clubs not currently backed by a state netball organisation. The other club in this situation is the Sunshine Coast Lightning who is supported by the Melbourne Storm and the University of the Sunshine Coast. This team has had instant success.

Collingwood as a brand is extremely powerful, perhaps one of the most powerful in the country. But this alone is not enough to guarantee success. Nor is a link to the past where AFL and netball clubs thrived alongside one another.

Women's sport is not an experiment to be tried half-baked and then pushed to the side when results are not forthcoming. It is also not something shiny and new that you can return when it's no longer quite so shiny and new.

In Collingwood's media release, it noted its strong commitment to its AFLW and VFLW program. I wonder why a similar level of commitment has not been shown to its netball program, particularly given the funding that Collingwood has been provided to support women's sport.

Like the $15 million federal government infrastructure grant. This grant was supposed to provide better facilities and support programs for female athletes. There was also $7 million provided from Nike, a commercial partner of the club, which was provided based on the existence of the netball club. Were either of these two funding streams provided with any conditions attached or has Collingwood used the money for other purposes?

This situation is made more challenging due to Netball Australia's precarious position.

In other codes, like rugby league, the governing body has often stepped in when clubs fall to their knees.

This is not a viable option for NA who, despite an improved financial position this year, is still in debt. The Victorian Government is also not in a position to assist, following the provision of $15 million sponsorship to NA following the withdrawal of Gina Rinehart's support last year.

This decision by Collingwood will have far reaching consequences and some of them will not be known yet.

In the short term, introduces further uncertainty for Super Netball. Currently, there is no Collective Player Agreement between Netball Australia and the Australian Netball Players' Association in 2024.

In NA's press conference, CEO Kelly Ryan made it clear that the sporting body's preference is that no new contracts are agreed until the eighth licence is confirmed.

Should Netball Australia stick to this stance, it means that every single player will come off contract at the end of this season with a lack of financial security, certainty and understanding of what the future may hold.

Collingwood suggested that the ongoing pay dispute with the players also played a role in their ultimate decision, with the irony being that Collingwood's withdrawal will likely mean that the CPA negotiations will continue for an even more extended period.

It will likely also impact NA's broadcast deal; the money of which is important but so is the visibility that being on television provides.

In the short term, it sounds like the priority is to find an eighth licences as soon as possible, with the preference being to have a second team in Victoria.

In other sports, we have seen how long the process is to introduce a team. Part of the reason for that is that when you expand, you want to do it correctly. It would be disastrous for a team to be stood up quickly to solve the above challenges if that club follows the same route that the Magpies did.

Additionally, for many expansion teams they require concessions and additional support from their governing bodies. We have seen this with the GWS Giants and Gold Coast Suns when they entered the AFL and more recently the Dolphins in the NRL.

Netball is still in a challenging financial decision, and as made clear in its press release about Collingwood, is not in a position to prop clubs up or provide funding over and above what is provided to the other clubs.

If this next step is not done right, it could have far reaching consequences for the sport.

For so many of us, this isn't just about sport. Our sporting teams are more than just clubs, they are communities and I acknowledge the significant distress and heartache that this decision has caused for all those involved at Collingwood Netball Club and all of those who just love netball.

I hope that these people are being provided with the ongoing help and support they need.

In particular, I hope that this extends to the Collingwood playing group who continue to play this season for what? Perhaps for pride? Perhaps to finish what they started? Perhaps it's because they simply love what they do.

I hope that in the coming weeks, this team receives the send-off it deserves.

It's a shame that this may not happen at their last home game because it will clash with a Collingwood AFL game.