News Corp’s Australian chair claims ‘activist’ athletes hurt grassroots sport

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Rupert Murdoch’s Australian chief executive has accused athletes of hurting sport when they become “activists” and reject sponsorships from mining or energy companies.

The executive chair Australasia of News Corp Australia, Michael Miller, told a sporting leadership conference that athletes who reject sponsors don’t lose any pay but the “grassroots” sporting organisations suffer as a result of their activism.

News Corp is the largest publisher in Australian with mastheads including the Australian, the Daily Telegraph, the Herald Sun and, and the pay TV channel Sky News Australia.

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Miller appeared to reference the withdrawal of Hancock Prospecting’s $15m sponsorship from Netball Australia last year after a player backlash.

The backlash was sparked by First Nations squad member Donnell Wallam who expressed an objection to wearing a uniform with the Hancock logo on it because the founder of Hancock Prospecting and father of Gina Rinehart, Lang Hancock, suggested Indigenous Australians should be sterilised.

Speaking on a panel at the SportNXT Shaping the Future of Sport conference in Melbourne, Miller said: “Stars are your biggest strength and your biggest liability.

“When sporting stars become activists, it has a negative impact on the growth of the game, in terms of athletes choosing who their sponsors are and who they will and won’t work with.

“You employ people, you come to work accepting that the team, the company you work for, make decisions your behalf, and for athletes to take a fairly firm decision they don’t want to take a sponsorship from a mining company, from an energy company … their pay isn’t going to suffer, but ultimately it’s the grassroots and pathway programs that will.”

Questioned by the moderator, ABC journalist Tracey Holmes, Miller doubled down on his remarks.

“I find that athletes feel they have permission to make those statements, but other organisations wouldn’t accept it,” he said. “If you don’t want to work for that organisation, you leave and work elsewhere.”

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Another panellist, the president of the Melbourne Football Club, Kate Roffey, disagreed with Miller.

Roffey said she supported her players, which she called her greatest assets, and if they had issues with sponsors, they were well within their rights to speak up.

“It’s only courtesy, it’s not my responsibility to ask them what’s important to them as athletes,” Roffey said.

Miller was critical of sporting codes that made it difficult for the media to cover them by scheduling multiple matches at the same time and said it was important to give the media access to stories and personalities.

He also said Foxtel’s sports streaming service, Kayo, had figures that showed more men were watching women’s sport than women and it was a challenge getting women to watch women’s sports.