The sport of netball is no longer smouldering. It is exploding faster than an oxidised chemical reaction and it is winning the hearts of many South Africans in the run-up to the country hosting the Netball World Cup in 2023.
Netball South Africa has not rested on its laurels after the national side reached the semifinals of this year’s world cup in Liverpool, England in July. Rather, they have moved to ensure that the Spar Proteas are ready to steal the title and make Cape Town its new home in four years’ time.
To help achieve this goal, they have widened the scope for development, making this year’s Spar Netball Championships the biggest they have ever had. Netball South Africa’s president Cecilia Molokwane aims to make the sport accessible to as many people as she possibly can.
The championships, which are usually between provinces, have been split into regions. So, the competition, held at the University of Johannesburg’s netball courts, is being contested by 74 netball teams: 42 seniors and 32 under-21s.
The winner will get a trophy and the attention of the selectors who are out in the winter sun, casting their eyes across the 10 courts as they prepare to bag the next Karla Pretorius.
Pretorius was named player of the world cup tournament in July.
On Monday, the opening day of the local championships, the atmosphere was friendly. This will probably change as pressure grows with each round, and the closer teams get to the trophy. For now, the players greet spectators, journalists and opposition with smiles.
But, when the umpire’s whistle blows, hair gets tied up and players push each other to be the best they can be.
After the opening match, and an easy win, defending champions Tshwane went into isolation before they came out to face their next opponents. Not even the loud announcements from the central microphone served to break their concentration.
The coach of the Tshwane team, Sone Mokken, tells the Mail & Guardian that she is determined to keep the trophy in the capital, and believes that her team is going to focus on each opponent as they “climb this journey”.
She identifies the Dr Kenneth Kaunda team from the North West and the Mangaung team from the Free State team as the sides they will be on the lookout for, but she does not disregard any others.
Co-captain of Dr Kenneth Kaunda, Monique Reyneke, is playing in her fifth netball championships and says her team is hopeful of winning the tournament. She says she feels more inspired after the Proteas’ success in Liverpool; and that the national side showed these players just what they are capable of.
Reyneke believes that these smaller tournaments will assist in preparation for Cape Town 2023, and give the players — and Netball South Africa — a chance to experience small hurdles. Overcoming these, she says, will help everyone be better organised and prepare mentally for the bigger challenges they will face when the World Cup lands on South African shores.
Mokken says she believes that netball is growing, especially with the national championships being at its largest.
She insists, however, that more sponsors need to come on board to make netball a professional sport in this country. At the moment, South African netball players have to go overseas to play netball if they want it to be a source of income.
“Unfortunately players in our country need to work hard daily then they only can go and practise. If we can give them the same type of contracts the rugby and cricket players are getting, we will be ranked amongst the top two in the world,” she added.