Netball Australia has announced a Declaration of Commitment to tackling the barriers facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from participating and thriving in the league.

The pledge, signed by 20 national, state and territory-based clubs and bodies, will require the entire national netball system to understand and resolve issues surrounding Indigenous representation at elite levels.

The response was sparked by debate around Suncorp Super Netball’s Indigenous Round, after the league’s only Indigenous player—Queensland Firebirds’ Jemma Mi Mi—was left off the court, despite being the face of the round.

The agreement is the result of “intensive discussion in which key decision-makers turned the microscope on the system and also themselves”.

This is the league’s first unified response to the issue, which has been gaining momentum through former players and officials sharing their experiences, including Sharon Finnan-White.

Finnan-White was the second Indigenous player in history to don Diamonds colours. Alongside Marcia Ella-Duncan, Alison Tucker-Munro and Stacey Campton, Finnan-White will play a key role in supporting the league in developing the strategy framework.

“My main focus will be on ensuring that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the communities’ voices are heard, and that this is captured in the strategy that will be rolled out,” she said.

“The first thing Netball Australia needs to do is some extensive consultation with community groups and netball bodies to take a stock of what’s already happening with Indigenous programs and events, and understand what the barriers are in the various geographical locations.”

Finnan-White said while she was excited about the Declaration of Commitment and its potential, she is determined to see the league held accountable for their commitment and future actions.

“I want to ensure that [Netball Australia’s] intentions are genuine and not just words.”

The strategy will include targets that ensure actions are implemented, including cultural awareness training for staff, coaches and umpires.

The early phase of the Declaration of Commitment will focus on delving deeper into the experience of various stakeholders within the league, as well as identifying barriers and creating sustainable change plans.

Finnan-White said she hopes to see tangible change in five years’ time, with a significant increase in the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players, coaches, umpires, administrators and other paid positions.

Findings from the league-wide State of the Game Review will be released in the coming weeks, with a number of key milestones to follow, including the Progressing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Pathways Forum in December.

By Imogen Kars