Netball Development: Breaking the Stranglehold of Football

Netball like so many other so-called “small sport codes” has been overshadowed by football for a very long time. The sport which is dominated mostly by girls and women has been struggling, literally, for everything. Netball in most Southern African countries does not have good facilities. It does not enjoy a lot of patronage from spectators and sponsors alike. Most women and girls play the game seriously while they are still in secondary schools and colleges. Soon after, they are lost to the game owing to marital and family commitments as well as career choices.  The sport has all along been played largely for recreational purposes. Creating high profile role models has not been easy for the sport.   However, things are slowly changing in Southern Africa, following in the footsteps of developments in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom where professional leagues are now in place.  

In South Africa, a professional netball league is now fully functional providing high class entertainment to followers of the game. Meaningful sponsorship has been secured for the league which makes things more exciting. Of course, compared to the more established leagues elsewhere in the world, the South African netball league is still in its infancy. Nonetheless, this is a most welcome development which provides the girl child and young women a greater range of options in terms of employment through sport. South Africa also has advantages in terms of the size of its economy and the population. Netball is relatively easier to sell in this sport-mad country than in any of the other states in the hinterland. Most netball administrators would definitely be salivating and getting envious of the opportunities galore that their counterparts in South Africa have.

However, just like most challenges in life, you cannot just throw money at problems, hoping that they will disappear. Nothing can substitute sound administration and management of the game. Setting high standards and striving to achieve them is much cheaper than wallowing in self-pity crying about limited resources available. Netball is not a particularly expensive sport. It should therefore be relatively easy to achieve mass participation especially considering that the sport code is already well established in primary and secondary schools in most countries of Southern Africa. The mass participation in netball at community levels should be translated into self-sufficient, strong and viable clubs.  It is indeed an understatement to say that the strength of any league, be it amateur, semi-professional or professional, largely depends on the number and quality of clubs. Clubs are the bedrock for any meaningful development.

 The critical importance of clubs to the development of netball means that the relevant international and continental authorities need to consider the development of a training curriculum in management of netball clubs as well as issues of sports marketing which are more of a generic nature. 

The introduction of training programmes to raise the calibre of netball administrators is of critical importance to the future of the game especially here in Southern Africa. There is need to attract and retain quality volunteers in the form of the numerous female professionals that are abundant in almost every economic sector. Netball administrators should therefore make it their business to entice various professionals such as accountants, doctors, engineers, lawyers as well as marketing managers to boost the profile of the game. There is no doubt that the availability of high calibre administrators and netball administration training programmes will lead to the transformation of the game throughout Southern Africa.

In terms of participation at a high level, there is no harm in talented players from Southern Africa getting lucrative contracts in Singapore, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand. This can only help to improve the standard of play of the national teams of the region. However, it is equally important to develop the league structures of various countries to ensure the continued pursuit of excellence by administrators, coaches and players in Southern Africa.

Another recent welcome development is the decision by the International Netball Federation (INF) to grant the rights to host the World Junior Netball Championships to Botswana in 2017. If planned for correctly, this event, can help catapult the game to dizzy heights as the host country and some of its neighbours will have a chance to rub shoulders with best of netball talent available in the world today. 

Botswana and the rest of the Southern African countries should not just be gracious hosts but must prepare formidable teams to challenge for honours at this event. 

In this connection, Malawi deserves special commendation as the country has done very well in netball development. Malawi’s teams can compete reasonably well not only against regional giants, South Africa but even against more illustrious opponents such as Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

Another region in the world where netball is very popular is the Caribbean. Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago all have very good teams which can compete with the best at world level. Why should Southern Africa be left behind? Netball in this region has great potential but has definitely under-achieved. 

It can do much, much better in changing the sporting landscape of Southern Africa and offering exciting alternative entertainment. The ball is in the administrators’ court. It is up to them to find innovative ways of developing this game and breaking the stranglehold of football in the hearts and minds of all sports fans, male and female alike!

July 2015
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