Sharni Norder lashes Netball Australia and Matt Russell apologises to Donnell Wallam in Diamonds row

The fallout from the Netball Australia’s sponsorship saga rumbles on, with a TV commentator pressured to apologise for just mentioning Donnell Wallam’s role in the controversy, while the sport’s chiefs have been slammed by a former captain for not doing more to protect the indigenous debutant.

Wallam triggered the controversy when she asked to be exempt from wearing the sponsorship logo of mining company Hancock Prospecting prior to the three-match series against England.

The Aboriginal debutant did so in protest at comments made 40 years previously by the company’s late founder Lang Hancock in which he advocated sterilizing indigenous communities via the water supply.

Donnell Wallam tries to block Funmi Fadoju of the English Roses during the game in Newcastle

Wallam was supported by her teammates, so company chief Gina Rinehart – the daughter of Mr Hancock – withdrew the $15 million sponsorship which prompted many to question the players’ stance given it left a huge hole in Netball Australia’s funding.

In a remarkable twist, Wallam came off the bench in the series-opening game and scored the winning goal, sparking wild celebrations.

Matt Russell, who was calling the game for Fox Sports, understandably mentioned in his commentary the juxtaposition of how Wallams had gone from being slated by critics for her role in the sponsorship saga to then becoming a game-winning hero. 

‘In the eyes of some, she’s cost Australian netball millions. In the eyes of others, she’s just won them a Test,’ Russell said in commentary following the win.

Wallam shoots the winning layup

Then celebrates the winning score against England

Wallam shoots the winning layup and then celebrates the winning score against England

The commentary sparked a wave of angry responses, with one unhappy fan posting: ‘DISGUSTING from [Matt Russell] to say that Donnell cost them millions, don’t care that he phrased it as some people would think-absolutely disgraceful.’

‘It won’t overshadow that incredible moment in Australian netball history but I’m ABSOLUTELY FUMING at those comments from Matt Russell. How dare you?!’ posted another.

Under pressure from the offended on social media, Russell was moved to offer an apology for his commentary.

Fox Sports commentator Matt Russell

Fox Sports commentator Matt Russell

‘To call her moment, in an instant, I wanted to neutrally portray what ‘SOME SAY’ about her. And how, despite all that, she emerged spectacularly triumphant on debut, despite it all,’ Russell explained in a tweet.

‘Sorry to those who have been distracted from Donnell’s success and the Diamonds’ win. It was humbling/heartening to speak/message with Indigenous leaders/Donnell today.’

Meanwhile former Diamonds captain Sharni Norder [nee Layton] who played 46 tests for her country before switching to AFLW, torched Netball Australia for not protecting Wallam throughout the social media firestorm.

Norder is a Sports Environment Alliance ambassador and was a vocal opponent of Netball Australia’s decision to accept sponsorship from mining billionaire Rinehart in the first place. 

‘Donnell Wallam should never have been out in the limelight. She should have been protected all this time and she wasn’t,’ Norder said.

Wallam (right) celebrates the win over England on Wednesday with teammate Cara Koenen

Hancock Prospecting boss Gina Rinehart

Former Diamonds captain Sharni Norder

Gina Rinehart pulled her company’s $15million sponsorship deal with the team

‘I do think someone in Netball Australia needs to be held accountable for everything that’s happened in the last couple of weeks because it wasn’t fair on all of the players, but especially Donnell.

‘It never should have been as public as it was – there was a lot of misreporting and they carried a lot of the load of what happened.

‘I watched that game and went – that’s what we represent. That’s what we’re all about. We have each other’s backs. 

Wallam celebrates scoring the match winning point with team mates after the netball match between the Australian Diamonds and the England Roses at Newcastle Entertainment Centre

Wallam celebrates scoring the match winning point with team mates after the netball match between the Australian Diamonds and the England Roses at Newcastle Entertainment Centre

‘It was the toughest of anything we’ve ever had to face, and they had to endure that.’

However Diamonds coach Stacey Marinkovic said that Wallam had plenty of support from her teammates and Netball Australia staff. 

‘I don’t think she’s been as isolated as what is envisaged […] there’s actually been players with her working through and supporting her,’ she said post-match.

Wallam herself described the weeks leading up to her debut as the toughest of her life and said the ‘outside noise’ had been the most challenging part. 

Wallam wants to be a proud role model for Indigenous youth across Australia

Wallam wants to be a proud role model for Indigenous youth across Australia

‘I was kind of relieved to get my chance on court,’ she told Fox Sports.

‘It’s been the toughest few weeks of my life so to finally get out there and play in this dress was really special. It kind of makes the last couple of weeks feel like a bit of a blur.

‘It’s really special and I just hope that I’m a role model to the young girls and boys coming through for their turn.

‘It’s been a long time coming, so I hope I make everyone proud out there.’

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