It’s a Tuesday morning when I pick up the phone to speak to Rosie King, the CEO of Netball Victoria. I won’t lie, I’m a little nervous. Not only is King the CEO of Netball Victoria, she’s also on the Paralympics Australia board and has previously worked at the Geelong Football Club and for Sport New Zealand. Not to mention that she was the joint winner of the 2019 Administrator of the Year at the Victorian Sport Awards. It’s an impressive resume.
I’d arranged to have forty minutes with King. Predictably, I have a long list of questions so I’m keen to dive right in. But instead, she begins by complimenting me on an interview with Melbourne Vixens captain, Kate Moloney.
‘I saw your piece on Kate Moloney. I’ve actually got it in front of me, it was really good. Kate’s a great leader. She deserves to have that profile and she tells a great narrative, doesn’t she?’ King says.
I couldn’t agree more about Kate and I say so. This building up of the people around her is central to King’s style of leadership. At Geelong, she was the General Manager of People and Culture. This focus on culture informs her leadership at Netball Victoria.
‘I think [culture] is the fundamental piece that everything else comes from,’ King said.
The story of how we operate
King tells me a story about Netball Victoria’s ‘identity anchors’; the things that ‘tell the story of how we operate’. King says when she first arrived four years ago, many of the values of Netball Victoria were things that weren’t unique to the organisation or the sport.
‘They weren’t specifically about netball. And so in the last iteration of our strategic plan, we went back and said, what are the things that we hear [around] netball that is very much us. So we landed on a few, but the ones that probably are the most appropriate for this conversation are things like “we’ve got this”. Because when you’re around a netball court you hear that a lot, don’t you? I’m pretty sure Kate Maloney says it.
‘It’s a very encouraging, very confidence building statement. And so that became something that anchored us in the way that we want to operate. And the other thing is enabling others to shine.
‘And so the cultural piece, even in the last few months with this COVID-19, I just keep thinking our culture is going to be better because of this. Because we’ve stayed together.’
A remarkable feat
Unlike many other sporting organisations around the world grappling with the fallout of the COVID-19 crisis, Netball Victoria has avoided letting any staff go. It’s a remarkable feat as organisations with much bigger profiles both nationally and internationally shed staff.
‘When you compare it to the other large sporting codes, netball has always been seen to be a bit daggy in terms of just being run by and led by women and, therefore, perhaps not considered to be at the same level as other professional sporting codes. But it’s interesting because I feel that we can be really proud of the legacy that has been left over the years because we actually haven’t let anybody go through this crisis.’
The legacy that King points to is the women who have led Netball Victoria in the past who have left the organisation in such an enviable position. Women who King says made ‘really really wise decisions, investments and so forth’.
We’ve got women still working
That’s not to say there haven’t been tough decisions to be made. Netball Victoria staff agreed to a 20% across the board pay cut as the seriousness of the situation became apparent.
‘There has been some self-sacrifice in this process. But that’s a small price to pay to enable people to keep their jobs,’ King said.
‘Our organisation is run by women. So it’s about 90% female employment. And as you and I know, historically women have been subject to high casualisation of working hours. It’s well documented over decades that women have earnt less in comparison to men. That has a flow on impact of superannuation and other things at the other end of your career.
‘It partly comes down to having some money in the bank for a rainy day. And also prioritising decisions based on our beliefs and values in the organization and what’s important to us.
‘And look, don’t get me wrong, there are some that would say, you should try to keep the money in the bank and let people go because why would you want to dwindle your cash reserves. But I think in the broader piece when you consider that you’ve got money in the bank for a rainy day, well this is our rainy day, isn’t it? And so, being a not-for-profit community based organisation, I can’t think of a better contribution that we could make during this time, then to ensure that we’ve got women still working.’
The value of sport
King grew up playing netball, and it’s her experience playing and then having to give up that helped her to understand the value of sport to the community, particularly at a grassroots level.
‘Many of my mates came from that time of my life when I was playing just community netball, grassroots participation netball but I dropped out of sport when I was a shift worker and was no longer able to dedicate time to training and competition. And so it left a big hole in my life and it wasn’t so much the, well it was partly the physical activity but certainly for me, it was also my friends that that I relied on and it wasn’t until I didn’t have it that I realised what an important part in my life that had been.
‘But what I have learnt over the time of being involved in sport administration, is how sport really does provide a glue for many people in the community that other parts of their life don’t.’
Paving the way
King’s path in sports administration includes a six year stint at the Geelong Football Club where she spent time as the CEO, the first woman to take on the role at an AFL club.
‘It’s really interesting, sitting back now a few years down the track and reflecting on that, because at the time when I was asked if I would take on the role, I actually asked my boss, do you think I could really do that? And he said, well, you know, I wouldn’t actually be asking you if I didn’t think you could.
‘I was sort of really embarrassed that I’d asked the question but it told me a lot about myself—with the benefit of hindsight—about my perhaps lack of confidence around my own ability and that people saw something in my ability that I hadn’t honoured in the past.
‘So it does talk to me about that need for women particularly to have champions, and to have people who are going to shoulder tap you and care about your career and care about you as a person, when you’re sort of so far in the woods that you don’t step back and see it for what it really is. I needed someone to tap me on the shoulder and say, actually, I believe in you, you can do this.
‘What that has meant for me over the journey is that I make sure now that I shoulder tap women and I’m really proud to say that all of the executive team that I work with [at Netball Victoria] have all come up in the last four years under my leadership or while I’ve been there, from the middle manager area. They’ve all been given that opportunity because they’ve been asked to step up. Because we’ve had confidence in them.’
Returning to Royal Park
Today, that building up and encouragement plays a central role in King’s leadership of Netball Victoria. The identity anchors of “we’ve got this” and supporting others to shine, working to create an environment where the organisation can flourish. And that’s just what it’s doing. Keeping all staff employed during the current situation aside, next year the Netball Victoria will return to their spiritual home at the State Netball Hockey Centre at Royal Park after securing a $67 million dollar investment—King says it’s the largest for women’s sport infrastructure ever—from the government for the redevelopment.
‘We as a community advocated successfully over a long, long, long period of time to get that investment from the government to redevelop the home of netball and go back to our spiritual home so to speak. Netball has been played at Royal Park for nearly 100 years [so] the fact that we will be back there as an organisation is going to be pretty special.’
Women should have the opportunity to participate
The current landscape for women’s sport, pre-COVID-19 at least, was one where many women’s sports were flourishing and it’s something King finds especially thrilling.
‘Oh, it’s exciting. It’s absolutely thrilling and we would never try to take away the excitement that other sports have generated. And the awareness and education of the importance of women being able to have access to any type of sport that they want to play, whether it’s AFL, or whether it’s netball, or whether it’s kickboxing, or whatever they want to do women rightly should have the opportunity to participate.’
However, King laments the way in which the history of women’s sport—so often filled with remarkable women—are too often overlooked.
‘We lost an opportunity by not talking more about [how] these opportunities have come because generations of women, particularly connected in netball, have enabled that conversation to occur. So, you know, whether it’s standing on the shoulders of giants that has enabled these sorts of conversations to happen and it’s people like Joyce Brown who started rattling the cage [when she] said that she saw herself as being the first female AFL coach. And now we hear [about] Lisa Alexander having aspirations about going into AFL, and I think that’s absolutely wonderful.
‘I’m very excited that women are getting those opportunities. The challenge for us now is to make sure that there’s absolute equity in terms of the remuneration and the benefits that they get.
‘Netball does a good job, but we’re part-time professional athletes. And when you look at tennis, for example, they have their equal share of prize money, and I think that’s very much the next stage.’
Getting back on the court
For now, the focus is on getting back out on the court, from the grassroots right up to the elite and King is confident that netball will return in 2020.
We’re working on three plans at the moment, return to play for community and return to play professional and also return to work, because we’ve got to transition as well.
‘I’m kind of like fingers and toes crossed that we will get some community competitions in the latter part of the year. If we can get comps away in grassroots after the next round of school holidays I’ll be absolutely over the moon.
‘For our Suncorp Super Netball, it looks as if the latest sense is that we think it will happen—a full season—towards the latter part of the year. So there’s a few different options and obviously like other sports, we’ve just discussed whether we have hubs or whether we have compressed seasons or shorter seasons. We think that we will be able to get a full season away, sometime between August and November, if not before, depending on what sort of restrictions are lifted about travel.
Any announcement about the Suncorp Super Netball season is expected by the end of May, King says, but in the meantime Netball Victoria will keep doing what they do; keeping their sport going and the fans and players at every level engaged through a particularly challenging moment.
People over profit
When I ask King what she’s most proud of after four years as CEO of Netball Victoria, she hesitates.
‘It’s a very, very diverse role. I cannot believe the depth and breadth of the work that netball does in the community.’
King ticks off grassroots competitions alongside pre-elite and elite competitions and broadcasting, as well as clinics and workshops, umpire and coaching development and facility development as areas of focus for the organisation.
‘It’s incredible the span that a state sporting body has. I probably underestimated it actually.
‘The breadth and depth of the different work that I do to be honest with you, I never would have had the chance to do that in my old job had I stayed. So I’ve absolutely loved it.
‘I’m very biased [but] I actually don’t think that you can watch any better sport— professional sport—than netball because it’s fast and the pinpoint accuracy required and skill is, I think, second to none.’
Prior to COVID-19, King says the redevelopment of the State Netball Hockey Centre would have likely been her proudest achievement.
‘But now, sitting in my sunroom with my two dogs at my feet, I realise that my work is so much more meaningful to me when I’m around people. And the fact that Netball Victoria has committed to the course of action that we did, which is to retain jobs, put people over profit, to me is the best thing.’