sports gazette

England Netball: The future’s coming up Roses

Published: 9 Feb 2017

Netball has come under fire this week for being 'uncool' and not worthy of substantial funding, but facts show the sport is on the up.

The transformation of netball in the UK over the past decade has been phenomenal. A quick look at some developments provides the evidence.

The popularity of the game is increasing:

• Numbers participating up: around 164,100 people play each week

• Spectator numbers up: 4,000 watched England Roses vs. Jamaica in the Coventry leg of their three-match Series; 6,000 watched Hertfordshire Mavericks vs. Surrey Storm in the Superleague; 7,000 watched England Roses vs. Australia in the recent Quad Series

The national profile of the game has been boosted:

• Superleague expanding: 10 teams will take part in the 2017 season with eight from England and one each from Scotland and Wales – a further opportunity to grow successful national teams for all the home nations

• Professional players: England Netball began their first ever full-time training programme in June 2016. International netball players are now becoming known. They are becoming inspiring role models for young players and spectators alike. They make themselves available after Superleague or Series games to chat, take a photo or sign autographs

• Television contracts: Sky has covered the domestic league since 2006, making netball the first women’s sport to have dedicated weekly coverage; the BBC chose to broadcast England’s last game in the Quad Series live on BBC2

• Increased sponsorship: the Superleague is sponsored by Vitality; England Netball also has a growing number of commercial partners

Hardly the image of a sport that is, to quote Morwenna Ferrier, 'uncool'.

Ferrier is critical of the game’s restrictions on movement but that’s what makes the game high energy, really skilful and exciting to watch. The restrictions highlight the mental and physical speed and agility needed to play the game well. Players have to move, spin, react and decide what to do very quickly. Check out Vicki Oyesola’s post-pass and then tell me that’s not cool.

As players are only allowed in certain areas, the team unit – both on and off the court – is therefore much tighter than in many sports. Ferrier sees the fact that only two players can score as a negative, whereas it highlights the importance of teamwork to netball success. It's a game that can’t be dominated by a primadonna, who will win the game single-handedly. The goal attack and goal shooter only get the opportunity to net because of the support and transitioning work done by all the other players on court. Success depends on the whole team; there can be glory for everybody. As has been said many times – there’s no I in team. The tightness of the team unit leads to close friendships between team mates; people who you might not have met otherwise if it wasn’t for netball.

There are now few restrictions to netball participation. There are clubs across the UK: anyone can play – whatever their age and physical ability, however much time they have to dedicate. England Netball works tirelessly to arrange numerous initiatives, including walking netball. The sport embodies the ‘This Girl Can’ campaign, celebrating women getting involved. 

While girls and women may be leading the way in terms of both playing, officiating and spectating, an increasing number of men are also becoming involved.

Sport England has awarded England Netball £16.9m in its latest cycle – what the Daily Telegraph’s Eleanor Steafel claims is a "ludicrous sum of money to set aside to get women stubbing their fingers on netballs in the freezing cold”. In fact, the grant is recognition of the progress that has been made by England Netball and a vote of confidence in netball’s future.

The signs for the future are indeed hugely promising. Despite Steafel's view, expect to see more girls and women of all ages, as well as men, playing and enjoying netball. Expect sell-out crowds at both the 2018 Commonwealth Games and the 2019 Netball World Cup, to be held on home soil in Liverpool. Expect to see Tracey Neville’s side continuing to challenge the world’s best.

The future’s bright; the future’s coming up Roses.

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