Netball Australia boss Marne Fechner has apologised to the Queensland Firebirds’ first Aboriginal player Helena Higgins for her “negative experiences” in the sport and says it’s unacceptable that Super Netball has only one current Indigenous player in Jemma Mi Mi.
Higgins, known as Helena Saunders during her playing career, on Tuesday called for Super Netball’s Indigenous round to be scrapped unless the sport truly embraced the Indigenous community.
Higgins – whose comments came after Mi Mi received no court time for the Firebirds in the club’s Indigenous round weekend win over the Vixens in Cairns despite being used heavily in promoting the event – said she had also been used for “just media purposes” during her career.
“In 1998, Queensland Netball decided that I was going to be the face of netball in the state,” Higgins wrote on the IndigenousX website.
“I was required to attend different functions with the then CEO Michelle Buck. We went to the 1998 Gold Coast Indy, but I honestly felt like I was the token Indigenous girl at these events.
“I feel for this young player (Mi Mi). All of us previous Indigenous players have been there and it seems like the sport has not changed and this is the reason I will not participate in netball.”
Fechner said racism was unacceptable and that everyone in netball deserved the chance to “reach their potential on and off the court”.
“Netball apologises sincerely to Helena for her negative experiences within the netball system,” Fechner said.
“Netball Australia acknowledges that strong Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation rates and talent within our grassroots and state competitions is not translating into our elite pathway and that there are systemic barriers in place that need to be addressed.
“It’s not acceptable that Jemma Mi Mi is the only Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander player within the Suncorp Super Netball league and Netball Australia acknowledges that the next generation of players, coaches and umpires can’t be what they can’t see.”
Super Netball CEO Chris Symington understood Higgins’ call for the Indigenous round to be scrapped but said it would continue.
“Currently the Suncorp Super Netball Indigenous Round provides an opportunity to celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and acknowledge the contribution that many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders play across the entire netball system and we plan for this round to continue in future years,” Symington said.
Fechner said a “State of the Game” review was helping Netball Australia address the lack of opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to “reach their full potential in our game”.
“This starts in community and goes through to the Diamonds,” she said.