This year’s African Netball Cup meant far more than declaring that you are Africa’s best. It was also a taster for what these hungry women will encounter in 2023, when the Netball World Cup hits Cape Town’s shores.
Africa had four teams that finished in the top eight at the World Cup earlier this year. But they have decided that, although reflection is crucial, progressive steps will benefit them in their bid to tussle with the muscle of the sport in 2023.
This is exemplified by Malawi. Finishing sixth at the World Cup was a new achievement for them. But their coach, Peace Chawinga-Kaluwa, claims that their exploits in netball have only just begun.
“Now we are in a transition after the World Cup. We have brought in three or four new players. We want to do well in 2023, so we will work hard and do our best so that the transition goes well,” she said.
The ambition of the Malawi Queens was made evident by the results they achieved.
They were narrowly defeated by South Africa in their opener, with a scoreline of 56-51. But they got better as the tournament progressed, most notably beating former African champions Uganda 49-45.
South Africa would eventually emerge as the new champions, but for Chawinga-Kaluwa, the emotion on display at this tournament is just what African netball needs.
“This tournament has had a different feeling. We need to keep that feeling until we get to the 2023 World Cup,” she said.
Uganda captain Irene Mirembe concurred, saying that it is crucial for African teams to play more games if they want to reach the level of England, Australia and New Zealand. “It was a good feeling this year. African tournaments are extremely competitive. We need to continuously engage with each other, play with and against each other, have more competitions in Africa and this will help us on the international stage,” she told the Mail & Guardian.
But the challenges the sport faces on the continent are massive. With minimal funding, a tournament once a year seems like these women are already pushing boundaries.
Uganda are familiar with these challenges. Before their qualification for the 2015 World Cup, they travelled to play a match in Gaborone, Botswana with just 600 000 Uganda Shillings (R2 400) in funding. Local media dubbed it a miracle when they eventually did jump on the plane to Australia later that year. The She Cranes would go on to be crowned African Champions twice in a row.
But although the African Netball Cup serves as a platform for unity off the court and difference of class on the court, Malawi’s Chawinga-Kaluwa argues against relying on the competition to solve their problems.
She still feels that change is needed in African netball. “In Africa, I can say that we only rely on the African tournaments, which is a shame because we can only rely on one, tournament and only a handful of African teams play internationally, she said. “So, yes, the African Cup being brought in the last five years has helped us, but if we continue playing in the African Cup every year, we are not going to grow.”
Currently, there are no alternatives that offer competitive netballers the chance to play regularly. South Africa, which has the biggest netball structures, doesn’t offer the sport at a professional level. This means that these talented women have to stick to their day jobs and then join their teams without any team practice since the last time they appeared in national colours.
Last week, Proteas coach Dorette Badenhorst told the M&G that the sport will not grow any further until it receives the same support as the country’s flagship sports such as rugby, football and cricket.
And although both Mirembe and Chawinga-Kaluwa also want the sport to become more accessible, they are grateful for the structural efforts being made in their respective countries to propel talent to the top from young ages. Malawi’s development process lasts from school until players reach the under-23s. In Uganda, it is the same.
But until 2023, Chawinga-Kaluwa is determined to treat the Africa Cup as a stepping stone. She feels that, just as the continent united in 2010 to celebrate Siphiwe Tshabalala’s opening goal or weep at Asamoah Gyan’s missed penalty, we must start embracing that feeling to help Africa — and help netball.
“Africa must come together, then we will be united. We will call everyone to Africa and show them that the sport can and must be played here regularly,” Chawinga-Kaluwa said.