Australia's top netballers are threatening strike action this weekend as a bitter political divide between the states and national body threatens to swallow the sport whole.
News of the political turmoil that has been simmering behind the scenes for the past 18 months finally broke yesterday when The Age newspaper in Melbourne revealed dumping of former board chair Anne-Marie Corboy at a special general meeting called by the member organisations.
Now the Australian Netball Players Association (ANPA), headed by former international Bianca Chatfield, have launched an extraordinary power play of their own. The ANPA have threatened strike action this weekend, a Super Netball breakaway to form a rebel competition and a boycott of Diamonds games for the rest of the year unless the state associations re-elect threatened board member Kathryn Harby-Williams at Friday's Netball Australia annual general meeting.
The latest move brings Australia's new domestic netball league to the verge of implosion just nine weeks into the competition.
In a letter addressed to Netball Australia chair Paolina Hunt to be distributed to all member associations and delegates before the AGM in Canberra, the ANPA strongly condemned the treatment of Corboy as "an inexcusable lack of judgment that only serves to satisfy self-interest".
"It is a non-negotiable position that Kathryn Harby-Williams be re-elected to the board with the overwhelming support of all [member organisations] and delegates," the letter read.
"Failure to re-elect Harby-Williams will see the players lose complete confidence in the people entrusted to select the board of NA.
"It would demonstrate that those with the responsibility of electing the board are more interested in selecting well-meaning individuals who contribute little, over people who have the necessary skills, knowledge and expertise to take the sport forward."
The letter, which was signed by player representatives from each team, said that failure to endorse Harby-Williams would result in players meeting to discuss the future of Super Netball, including round nine this weekend, a protest that "may involve industrial action".
"Additionally, no player will be available to represent the Australian Diamonds for the remainder of the year, until the Australian Sports Commission expresses their confidence and satisfaction that the board is truly independent and capable of acting in the best interests of the sport and not representative groups that have both a real and perceived conflict of interest."
The Australian Sports Commission is headed by former Netball Australia chief executive Kate Palmer, who was responsible for driving many of the changes the state bodies are protesting.
The state bodies have remained largely silent on their role in the boardroom stoush, but it is a stoush that has been brewing for some time.
It is understood the member organisations were on the verge of launching a vote of no-confidence in the Netball Australia board a year ago, with clubs left in limbo through on-going delays while commercial agreements were finalised with the likes of major sponsor Suncorp and broadcast partners Channel Nine.
While the new broadcast agreement and subsequent pay deal were hailed as a landmark for the sport, there were concerns behind the scenes that the financial model was unsustainable, with Netball Australia failing to generate the expected revenue to support such a pay increase.
The move to grant the three new licences to AFL and NRL clubs Collingwood, Sunshine Coast Lightning (Melbourne Storm) and the Giants, owned by NNSW but aligned with GWS, also proved contentious. The five existing franchises, which are each run by the state bodies, complained the new teams would siphon off talent that they had not paid to develop.
After nine rounds of the Super Netball competition, the new clubs occupy three of the four spots.