Look out world, Netball South Africa is coming!
The emergence of South Africa is the big news story in international netball in 2012.
Most importantly, they have a high-ranking Government minister who apparently believes in the power of netball.
Netball will be a professional sport in South Africa from April 2013, says its Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula, with the development of a new professional league.
“There is not going to be any girl playing netball for free or part-time. Two million players will be aspiring to be on the payroll for our new professional league and they will play netball week in, week out. Netball will be faster, better and (more) beautiful.”
Mbalula called on investors to get involved.
This is great news for South Africa; “two million players” – that’s more than Australia, England and New Zealand combined.
At this rate, South Africa will be number one in the world by the 2019 World Championships.
This is a BIG DEAL.
If Mbaluba is good to his word, South Africa’s national team will fast, beautiful and perhaps, eventually – unbeatable.
“Those doomsayers who don’t believe in this, we still call on them and say ‘invest in this because you’re investing in the future of the country’.
“If you invest in a woman, you are breaking the cycle of poverty and this is what it’s about. Two million girls on the payroll is a way of fighting poverty and unemployment.”
In the Diamond Challenge, which was Mbalula’s own initiative, the Spar Proteas compete against continental rivals Malawi, Botswana and Zambia, starting yesterday.
South Africa’s Rise and Fall and Rise Again
Things haven’t really been so good for South Africa netball before 2012. Their side has changed personnel far too often, their attack end was often predictable and stilted, while their defence end could not stop the fast game of the top sides. They also struggled to stop the Jamaican aerial style of play. Often basic footwork and ball skills were lacking, while the attack end seemed to zig-zag in a way which was error-ridden as well hard to defend.
South Africa’s netball progress mirrors the prospects and development of the emerging nation. South African netball team was banned from playing netball because of its racist apartheid regime until 1994. Interestingly, the team was at one stage under quotas of black players because it was so heavily filled by white players. However, the quotas no longer apply and the black players have well and truly earneed their place in the side through merit. Things looked good for the national side when it convincingly beat England 5-0 in its first international outing in 1994. The following year it was solidly beaten by both Australia and New Zealand in test series, but then the unthinkable happened; they upset New Zealand in a thrilling 59-57 win, sealing it with a winning goal. The Silver Ferns were in despair and finished the tournament third. South Africa lost the final by 20 goals to Australia. The loss left a scar and the Silver Ferns have not come close to losing South Africa.
South Africa at the time did of course have one secret weapon – Irene Van Dyk. It should not be under-estimated just how much van Dyk came to change the game. Prior to van Dyk, 190cm+ goal shooter were immobile – either bulky or thin and lacking in elevation. Van Dyk was a tall shooter who could move and jump – she rarely missed. However after the 1995 World Championships the squad seemed to change almost constantly. In particular, the goal attack role. The team lost to a revitalised England to come fourth at the 1998 Commonwealth Games and hasn’t placed higher than 5th at a major event since. Van Dyk left the side to become a Silver Fern, so too defender Leana de Bruin. Low points came with a seventh-place at 2006 Commonwealth Games and sixth at the 2007 World Championships. Malawi, one the world’s poorest nations, displaced South Africa from the number one ranked African side. Soon they began to lose matches to Fiji and the slide seemed as inevitable as it was inexplicable.
2 million registered players in South Africa? Fiji has just 5000.
Australia is the side South Africa has most struggled with. The Proteas have never been able to match the Australians fast and skilled foot and ball work. The closest match was five goals back in 2002 in South Africa. Most matches have margins of between forty and sixty goals. By contrast, they frequently give New Zealand a scare. A fact former national captain Anne Sargeant says is because “New Zealand plays with a similar float to the ball” and this makes it easier for the South Africans to defend it.
Nonetheless, South Africa were thrashed so badly by NZ and Australia, time and again, the nations stopped touring each other for tests. The Proteas instead concentrating on matches against second-tier sides Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados, Fiji and other African teams. Australia has not hosted South Africa for close to a decade.
The four nations event in October between Australia, NZ and England is happening at a good time. The South African form turnaround hasn’t really happened until this year.
The Proteas have emerged from over a decade in the netball wilderness with a win over Jamaica, some crushing defeats over a tricky Northern Ireland side and a runner-up finish at the World University Netball Championships. The South African 21/U side also came close to beating a very strong England 21/U side in recent a three test series.
Much like the country, is starting to find its feet. Netball is a great healer of divides – bringing together the best of all ethnic groups of their society to work together in the team-sport of all team-sports. There is a growing push for players from poorer communities to become netball elites.
Elize Kotze has found a core group of both young and experienced players who look like staying for the long haul.
Netball South Africa now also boast some very sophisticated marketing and some very competent public relations professionals at their disposal.
Good news for South Africa, is indeed good news for international netball.
Netball Diamond Challenge in South Africa
Minister Mbaluba announced that netball is going professional at the launch of an event he initiated, the four-day Diamond Challenge currently underway at the Heartfelt Centre in Pretoria.
The event is a four day tournament featuring South Africa, Malawi, Zambia and Botswana.
Malawi is currently the world number 5, South Africa number 6 and Botswana the third ranked African side at number 15. Zambia do not have a world ranking due to a lack of match play against ranked countries, but the developing nation have scored bronze medals at the last two major African netball tournaments.
Three of South Africa’s best players are missing, as are some members of their u/21 team because of other commitments. Malawi is running with a strong side, including Peninsula Waves shooter Mwai Kumwenda.
On day one South Africa opened their campaign with a 55-26 victory over Botswana on Wednesday. Malawi beat Zambia 75-32.
South Africa lead 44-15 at three quarter time, before drawing 11 all in the final quarter.
“I’m happy about the win but not really happy about the performance,” said Kotze after the game. “Our defence was excellent during the first two quarters but tonight was the only opportunity I had to give the whole bench a chance. “From the third quarter, our whole defence was out of sync and also bringing Nosi (Goda) up as centre disturbed their rhythm.”
Kotze said it was clear the team lacked trust when they had to release the ball quickly and it was one of the things they would sort out before their next game.
“We will get the team back for some strategic training tomorrow morning,” she said.
On day two, South Africa was given a tougher challenge, winning 47-34 against Zambia. Earlier, Malawi beat Botswana 63-29.
“This Diamond Challenge is the centrepiece, but next year in April – just to give you a bite of the cherry – we are going professional,” said Mbula.
On receiving the news that the sport will turn professional, national coach Kotze was overwhelmed according to the Sowetan Live network.
“It is the happiest day of my life,” said Kotze, “We’d heard rumours, but now I’ve heard it from the minister himself. We will hold him to it, so there is no going back now