Emily Chantiri speaks to Netball Australia’s Kate Palmer and Anne-Marie Corboy about the sport’s growing success.

    On the ball

    Netball Australia is about to embark on one of the biggest ventures in its 90-year history with the signing of an historic five-year agreement that will provide a boost to the national sport. The deal between the Nine Network, Netball Australia and Telstra will provide netball fans with unprecedented access to both domestic and international games.

    Key to the formation of the deal, which will see two games broadcast in prime-time each week, was the establishment of a new Australian netball league. The new league, which replaces the existing ANZ Championship, was spearheaded by Netball Australia’s chief executive officer (CEO) Kate Palmer along with chair Anne-Marie Corboy GAICD.

    A Diamond success

    One of netball’s greatest success stories is the Australian Diamonds. The team has 11 World Championship titles to its name and in 2015, won its third consecutive Netball World Cup with a three-goal victory over New Zealand.

    Palmer, who has spent ten years with the organisation, says the Diamonds have a culture of success and a strong values system that is reflected across Netball Australia. “One of the important goals for the Diamonds is to reflect their values at all times. They take real pride in representing their country,” she says.

    Referring back to the signing of the broadcast agreement, Corboy says “The establishment of the new national league is a priority for netball over the next few months.

    “It has been a huge milestone this year to procure the broadcast agreement. It has been a great success and this is due to Kate, her deputy Marne Fechner and the team.”

    The two agree that the deal will set a benchmark for women’s sport, leading to both commercial development and sporting careers for women; three new netball teams from the Collingwood Football Club, Melbourne Storm Rugby League Club and Netball NSW in a strategic alliance with the GWS Giants, will be added to the five existing teams in the ANZ Championship.

    Palmer adds: “The broadcast deal and the outcome of the sponsorship will be the most significant in women’s sport in Australia.”

    “The board is taking a strong leadership role in this change. We couldn’t have had stronger support, nor clearer direction from the whole board. Anne-Marie’s leadership has been critical to the success that we have achieved. Personally, it’s been one of the best experiences of my career,” she says.

    A formidable team

    After two years as a director, Corboy became chair of the board in 2016. Corboy has more than twenty years’ experience as a director for a range of organisations, including the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Victorian Superannuation Board and the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors and was also a trustee on the MCG Trust, where she met Palmer 15 years ago.

    Corboy says their time together on the Trust, and her desire to contribute to the elevation of women’s sports, were key in attracting her to join the Netball Australia board.

    Speaking of Palmer, Corboy says: “During our time [on the Trust], I gained much respect for her. Netball Australia is seen as a leading sports organisation. I witnessed the way she approached managing the sport. Her leadership style attracted me to join the board. She is an outstanding sports leader.”

    We need a board that will challenge and ask questions, think differently, and help us be better at what we do.

    Palmer says Corboy’s qualities were ideally suited to the needs of the board. “She has the perfect qualities of professionalism and an understanding of business growth which meet the needs of our organisation, now and into the future.” She adds,“We need a board that will challenge and ask questions, think differently, and help us be better at what we do. We have this in Anne-Marie.”

    As they established a working relationship, it took time to learn and understand how the other works. “It has been a great process and now we understand each other. We are going through a huge breakthrough in our sport’s history,” says Palmer. “The very nature of this means that Anne-Marie and I are in regular discussion. I seek her advice and counsel on a range of things.”

    “We realise each other’s differences, but what we both have in common is tenacity. Sometimes we look at things differently. This is an important aspect, as you take the best of each other, and the team, and combine all these attributes to get a great outcome. We believe we have been able to do this,” says Corboy.

    Palmer says that having Corboy, who is passionate about sport, has been a huge benefit. “It is important to have different perspectives, because sometimes I am too close to the sport,” she says. “Anne-Marie can look at issues from a more pragmatic side. It’s another perspective; ultimately, we are working together to find the best solution. This goes back to the board and a team effort; having a united board, with strong leadership and clear direction allows us to achieve so much.”

    Sights on the future

    A passion for raising awareness of women’s sport in Australia is something the two have in common. “Women’s sport is still underfunded and underpaid,” says Corboy. “It is really important to me to be part of a women’s organisation that is leading the way and that is improving the way women’s sport is perceived in Australia. It’s great for us to be paving a path in a new direction.”

    She praises Palmer’s knowledge of netball, which she said has helped lead Netball Australia to reach an outcome that is right for the game.

    “Netball is so much more than the Diamond team – it’s about a wider community. Kate has been able to direct our strategy to not just the elite level, but also to impact on our wider community,” she says. “By providing Netball Australia with a public profile, such as the commercial framework we are putting in place, benefits will flow back to the netball community in general, not just to high performers and the elite.”

    A key driver for both Corboy and Palmer is ensuring that young girls have an opportunity to be fit and healthy and that they can aspire to be professional netballers if they choose.

    Also on the agenda is maintaining the growth of the profile of women’s sport both in Australia and globally. Although netball is officially recognised as an Olympic sport, it is notably absent from the Games. “The International Netball Federation has been working towards changing this and I hope that one day soon we will see netball played at the Olympic Games,” says Corboy.

    Palmer and Corboy understand that realising their vision for Netball Australia will require a combination of thoughtful leadership, passion and pragmatism.

    “Netball is the leading women’s sport in the community. It’s important that we maintain this and enhance our leadership position. My experience in the past has been that it’s quite easy to lift up from a less performing organisation; it’s much harder to stay a leading organisation. This is our challenge and this is what we strive to do,” says Corboy.

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