Netball Development: Exploiting the Gold Mine

 

Netball is undoubtedly the most popular sport for girls and women in Southern Africa. 

The sport is relatively cheaper to develop and promote as it can be played literally everywhere from schools and colleges in the urban areas to those in peripheral rural areas.

The profile of netball has also been boosted by the fact that the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) has made it one of the sport codes on the Commonwealth Games programme. The game is still to find its way onto the Olympic Games programme but judging by current developments, which have seen the introduction of men’s netball, achieving that Olympic status is not a far-fetched dream.

Like other sport codes, netball has its fair share of problems. But in Southern Africa the governing body, the Confederation of Southern African Netball Associations (COSANA), has done its level best to sustain interest in the game. Power struggles at continental level have blighted the image of the sport with two rival organisations claiming to lead the sport. However, the world governing body, the International Netball Association (INA), will continue to play a significant role in this matter, as it is their responsibility to categorically declare, which continental body they recognize and support.

After all has been said and done, the netball leaders have a grave responsibility to ensure continued growth and participation of girls and women in this sport especially in our beloved Southern African region.

The development of high calibre administrators, coaches and umpires is long overdue. In fact, this is what is holding netball back from fulfilling its huge potential. If COSANA was to take advantage of its huge marketing potential, it could overtake some of the traditionally popular sports, in terms of revenue being generated from sponsorship and television broadcasting rights.

In comparison, women’s football has still not attained that privileged status of being a magnet to sponsors and broadcasters alike. Manufacturers and distributors of female products and other household goods can also capitalise on the increasing popularity of netball to market their goods and services. Advertising at netball courts means captive audiences, which in most cases, translates into increased sales, as women determine ‑ to a large extent ‑ what food is consumed in any household, what toiletries and other related products are utilised by their families.  Therefore, associating with netball can be advantageous for both private companies and various netball associations. 

There is great potential for mutually beneficial relationships for both parties. A win-win situation indeed!

Spar, the supermarket chain has recognized this great potential and the brand is now one of the big supporters of netball in South Africa and Botswana. However, these partnerships have not been replicated in other countries where the Spar brand operates or more importantly at regional level with COSANA. The Spar authorities need to be congratulated on their foresight in helping to uplift the status of women in society and sport through the medium of netball. Other business houses have no corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes whatsoever. 

They do not really plough back some of their mega-profits back into the societies they operate in and which play a critical role in the profitability of their enterprises.

Netball is becoming increasingly professionalised. There are professional and semi-professional leagues being established and operated in Australia, United Kingdom, Canada , Singapore and New Zealand.

The onus is upon COSANA and its member associations to ensure that the standard of netball in the region is raised to enable the region to compete effectively with those in the developed world. South Africa has long been a dominant force in the region but its supremacy is being seriously challenged by Malawi, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe. This is good for the region, as rigorous competition can only be good for the sport and its marketability.

It is also encouraging to note that Australian, Singapore and New Zealand professional clubs are now scouting for talent in Southern Africa with some Southern African girls getting lucrative playing contracts in these countries. 

This goes to show that netball can also generate employment and wealth for girls and women, if administered properly.

In this connection, national sports authorities should also play their role by helping the region to host more coaching and umpires’ clinics as well as seminars for administrators who run netball. 

The game can longer be administered on a “business as usual” basis. There is need for greater innovation and marketing in order to ensure that netball gets the best deals from sponsors and broadcasters.

Netball leaders should no longer be passing the begging bowl around like some sport codes, which have very little clout. They should not be looking for charity but commercial partners who will also benefit tremendously from their association with the sport.

A new era is beckoning for netball, which requires full-time chief executive and marketing officers for the game just like in football, cricket or rugby. 

The era of netball committees comprising of mostly volunteers led by old school female teachers is gone. 

Yes, in terms of history, they played their part in popularising the game to such an extent that almost every young girl graduating from primary or high school would have played netball in either low- or high-level competition formats. However, nowadays a different approach is being demanded. Netball is now serious business and it should be treated as such.

There is need for COSANA to plan effectively to ensure that its member states rise up the INA Rankings at both junior and senior levels. This can only be achieved through well thought-out and executed talent identification and development plans. 

COSANA members should not go to the world championships just to make up numbers but must go there to seriously compete for honours.  The stranglehold of Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom as winners of world championships can and must be broken.

It is, therefore, encouraging to learn that Botswana has won the bid to host the 2017 World Netball Championships in Gaborone. The trophy must remain here in Southern Africa. 

Netball is not just a fast and exciting game involving mostly girls and women; it is now a gold mine of opportunities, which can contribute to the alleviation of abject poverty and deprivation in Southern Africa.

 It can also help to empower women and girls in a big way.  The time to roll up our sleeves and start the hard work of developing the game is NOW!

October 2013
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