Industrial action will seek to disrupt rather than cancel this weekend's round of Super Netball matches after the Netball Australia board failed to re-elect Kathryn Harby-Williams as a director on what another former Diamonds' captain, Liz Ellis, described as "a sad day" for the game.
The Australian Netball Players' Association ruled out strike action during the telephone hook-up that followed Friday morning's AGM in Canberra - citing the interests of fans, corporate partners and broadcasters, and after receiving public and private assurances that none of their conditions and benefits would be threatened in a league committed to becoming fully professional within five years.
But, having expressed its disappointment at the forced departures of both Harby-Williams and former chair Anne-Marie Corboy, the ANPA resolved that "some form of protest" would take place during the round nine matches in Brisbane and Sydney in order to "continue to shine a light on the very real issue of independence and governance on the board".
Five candidates were contesting three spots, with incumbent Cheryl McCormack and Marcia Ella-Duncan elected for three-year terms and Susan Comerford for one, after filling the casual vacancy created by last week's dramatic axing of Corboy. Harby-Williams, whose re-appointment had been described as "not-negotiable" by the players, and - as expected - Jan Magaccis, missed out.
"The players will keep a very watchful eye on the deliberations of the board over the immediate future to ensure it makes decisions that benefit the sport as a whole and not of some," an ANPA statement said. "Further action from the players will be subject to discussions to be held over the coming days, weeks and months." No further comment was forthcoming.
Industrial action at national-league level had been flagged by the ANPA on Wednesday in a hard-line letter distributed to the state delegates, as were moves to explore the formation of a rebel competition, seek releases from their club contracts, run former players to challenge state presidents and boycott Diamonds games for the rest of the year unless the member organisations re-elected Harby-Williams.
Ellis was among those to condemn the decision by the state bodies to overlook the well-credentialled former defender who boasts substantial business and broadcast experience. "I had hoped common sense would prevail over personal ambition and state politics," she said. "That it hasn't marks a sad day for netball."
The threat of a mutiny from several of the state associations has simmered since the decision to launch a new eight-team national competition for 2017 and grant licences to Collingwood and the Melbourne Storm. GWS is also involved, through an alliance with the Giants' Netball franchise owned by Netball NSW.
NA director Geoff Parmenter insisted the political stoush had not unduly harmed the sport. "I actually think it's an opportunity to draw a line in the sand and move forward," he said. "I think there's one thing I can say for certain: that everybody in that room is united in wanting the best for the game, and we have an opportunity now to capitalise on the opportunity that Super Netball's created for the game, and everybody recognises that and is committed to it.
"I think getting a clear resolution today so that the game can move forward is a great outcome for the sport and the sport is committed to moving forward together because we've established a wonderful opportunity in Suncorp Super Netball and everyone's committed to taking it forward."
Despite strong support for Harby-Williams having come from Tasmania, South Australia and the ACT, delegates from Queensland and NSW are believed to have placed Harby-Williams at No.5 on their ballots - making her election quest impossible if any other member organisation did likewise under the preferential system. Victoria is also thought to have placed Harby-Williams in their bottom two.
The dual Commonwealth Games and world championship gold medallist said she was dismayed that the players' views had been ignored. "I'm very disappointed," Harby-Williams told Fairfax Media. "I thought that my CV indicated that I've got the required skills to make a strong contribution at board level. I just want to thank everyone who supported me. It's been overwhelming. I just hope netball can move on from this."
NA board chair Paolina Hunt said in a statement: "We are confident that our board of directors has a dynamic combination of experience. Now that the vote has been determined, we are ready to move forward collectively and focus on creating the best outcomes for our sport."
The letter signed by Australia's top netballers this week.