2016 A Year Of Possibilities For Netball

Netball South Africa has dubbed 2016 the “Year of Possibilities” with a number of high profile developments that will drive netball towards its goal of becoming a fully professional code and the pinnacle of elite women’s sport.  Among the most significant developments are the expansion of the Brutal Fruit Netball Premier League; the introduction of an international four nations tournament and the enhancing of their relationship with top international coach Australian Norma Plummer to consult on coaching in the country.  Netball SA president Mimi Mthethwa says:  ‘We are very proud of where we’ve come from over the last three years during which we have taken massive strides in raising the public and media profile of the sport both on and off the court.  We want to continue that growth in 2016 and beyond as we continue towards our goal of creating a fully professional women’s sport.’

In 2016, Mthethwa says domestic netball’s most significant competition, the Brutal Fruit Netball Premier League will be both bigger and more entertaining as it moves from its Gauteng base, where it was staged for the past two years, to two different cities.  In addition the tournament will also feature 10 teams in one division this year instead of two divisions and will run over the course of eight weeks instead of the five weeks of the previous two years.  The BFNPL will be played in two different venues instead of one.

The first three weeks see the tightly-contested BFNPL taking place at the Heartfelt Arena in Tshwane, the venue that helped NSA launch the successful Diamond Challenge in 2012.  The following five weeks, inclusive of semi-finals and finals see the teams battling it out in Durban.  Mthethwa says:  ‘We want to be seen to be moving towards fulfilling our objective of taking the BFNPL to all provinces by 2018.  We hope this will be possible in the ever-growing partnership and support we receive from government.  Each province has been encouraged to ensure that they build an indoor facility for this purpose.  The BFNPL has been an incredible success since its launch in 2014, setting a new standard for high performance netball in the country as well as gaining us significant increases in media and public attention.  We’ve always wanted it to be a fully national tournament.  2016 therefore gives us the opportunity to pilot moving the BFNPL between two provinces as a start.  We are confident that this will also attract more spectators and interest.’

Internationally, the inaugural Four Nations (SANZEA) tournament will see South Africa locking horns with New Zealand, England and Australia in August this year.  The importance of regular international fixtures outside of Netball World Cup and Commonwealth Games is recognised by the participating nations, who are united in their goal of developing a high profile and regular international competition.  New Zealand and Australia will host the inaugural event in 2016, with the competition moving to South Africa and England, who will host the matches in early 2017.

Mthethwa says:  ‘These are exciting times for South African netball as we are in the process of developing the most prestigious annual tournament to compliment the quadrennial Netball World Cup.  The competition will be fierce and our Proteas will only improve in the company of such illustrious opponents.’  NSA will also focus on their preparations ahead of the African Qualifiers that will be held in Botswana later in the year in the hope to qualify for the Under-21 World Championships that will also be hosted in Botswana next year.  Australian coach Norma Plummer will continue to assist the Proteas but her role will be enhanced to include her working with coaches across the country.

Netball SA will also introduce an Under-17 category at the annual Spar National Championships, to assist in identifying talented young players at an early age.  Mthethwa said the federation’s vision for netball goes way beyond winning games and she hopes that the sport can turn professional and open more opportunities for officials.  Mthethwa says:  ‘We want to see the BFNPL become professional, more technical officials of colour achieving top merits in order to become internationally accredited and for more coaches to religiously work with Norma Plummer starting from February.  We are very committed to achieving the targets that we have set for ourselves and we have signed an MOU for with the Minister of Sport on the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) project that seeks to address issues of transformation.  We are encouraged to work even harder on issues of ensuring good governance in running Netball SA.  The recent reports presented by sports research firm BMI on different surveys done with sports federations put us in a very good space when we hear that the private sector is beginning to notice the hard work we do.’

Mthethwa says that the findings indicating that there was growing interest among corporates to start investigating the potential of netball as a marketing and sponsorship vehicle was promising:  ‘We just have to ensure that we are all focussed on one goal; proving to all that as women in sport we deserve to be given an opportunity.  We are always open to advice and constructive criticism because we realise that we still have a lot to learn in running the sport as a business.’  Lessons and setbacks were encountered last year and Netball SA has had their fair share of challenges.  Mthethwa says:  ‘Not being able to get players as frequently as we would’ve liked in preparation for the World Cup was challenging and is hard to improve on.  Also finding a suitable cost efficient facility for our competitions is still the biggest challenge as it means using funds meant for development on securing venues for our elite competitions.’

Photo credit: Reg Caldecott/Gallo Images