The Netball World Championships are on in Auckland at the moment and this causes me to reflect on the sport - especially as a lifelong basketball fan and player. I must confess that netball has become an acquired taste. I enjoy the game.
Netball has advantages over basketball. Two come to mind. By not allowing dribbling the game has the potential to be so much faster. As any basketball coach knows - 'a pass will always beat a dribble'. Alternatively, take the way players are limited to certain zones in netball. It took awhile ... but I quite like it. It creates such a team game. Having a Michaela Jordan as a goal-shoot is irrelevant if the centre and wing-attack ain't much good and can't get her the ball.
Another thing I love about netball is the personalities and leaders it throws into public life. Waimarama Taumanu was my first favourite with Bernice Mene not far behind. They are so winsome and so articulate (I really like that one!) when they are interviewed - and gifted leaders as well. Adine Wilson has the same qualities. Gee - I wish she could be interviewed after All Black games!
But the question I keep asking myself is 'why does such a good game have such a poor following around the world?'. In 2007 the NZ media have tried to place the Cricket World Cup, the America's Cup, the Rugby World Cup and the Netball World Championships on an even footing. Really?! I don't think so... Globally, netball is to basketball what rugby league is to soccer. Upwards of 95% of the world's population have no idea that the netball championships are on at the moment. Why? Of course - it has something to do with the treatment of women's sports ... but are there other reasons?
I don't know - but there are things about netball that frustrate me ...
At the head of the list are some of the rules and the way they intrude into the game and interrupt its flow. I notice this most when I am on the sidelines for my daughters' games. Isn't it time to get rid of many of the 'contact' calls? We are no longer in the dainty lady-like era! Does a little touch really deserve a whistle - especially if it has not impacted possession? Which brings me to the need for an 'advantage' rule of some kind. Why keep bringing the game back to the 'spot' for a restart if it is not necessary. As a spectator sometimes I have to turn away out of sheer frustration with these two areas in the lawbook - and the way they attract pedantic and officious officials who just love their whistles. No sport I know features so many bewildered looks by players towards officials as netball. It wouldn't take a lot to fix...and the appeal of the game might well spread.
But here is the issue. Those controlling the game don't seem to be self-critical enough about their sport. Administrators. Officials. Media. The sport would be stronger if it was less defensive in the face of critique. Sometimes these people can be just sychophantic. At the opening ceremony the other day, the NZ coach came on screen and the commentator gushed "doesn't she look lovely?!" What?!
I reckon netball is good enough to go global. But when quarterfinals are won and lost by an average of 50 goals it suggests that there is still a long way to go. That's OK. You gotta start somewhere - but is there a willingness to start? ... or will the 2019 semi-finals feature Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica and England as well?