Netball World Cup is a game-changer for Africa

NSA president Cecilia Molokwane says hosting the World Cup will create a lasting legacy in South Africa and on the continent by professionalising the sport.

Nerves and excitement filled the room at the Cape Town International Convention Centre when the International Netball Federation (INF) president, Molly Rhone, entered. Those in the room held their breath along with many others across 100 countries, whose eyes were fixed on South Africa in anticipation of the announcement Rhone would make.

“On behalf of the board of the International Netball Federation, I’m delighted to announce that the host of the INF Netball World Cup 2023 is South Africa,” Rhone said. 

Loud cheers, applause, confetti and celebratory champagne followed her announcement as South Africa continued being a trendsetter on the continent in terms of sport. South Africa will become the first African country to host the Netball World Cup, building on its successful hosting of the rugby, cricket and football global showpieces.

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The staggering R2.5 billion that’s estimated to come with the 2023 tournament is the cherry on top, while the cake is the legacy this tournament will bring to the country and the continent.

Netball South Africa’s (NSA) selling point in its pitch to the INF was the legacy that will be left after the World Cup is over. The 2010 Fifa World Cup bid was also built around the legacy it would leave through education and development of football in the country. The 2010 Fifa World Cup Legacy Trust provides support to non-governmental organisations that use football to bring about positive social change.

Growing netball

NSA plans to include the entire continent in its legacy programme, which fits into INF’s vision of growing the sport by giving young players from remote areas the facilities they need to thrive.

“South Africa was very strong in the legacy area, which is great for our sport. That was the most important part. It’s amazing what 16 wooden floors [to serve as a netball court] will do,” Rhone said, explaining why South Africa won the bid.

“A lot of your areas will now be able to host events because facilities are important. Their legacy of providing strong wooden floors and other courts to other provinces and regions in the country will allow many more girls to play netball. South Africa really stood out in their legacy programme, which is good for our sport.”

South Africa fended off strong competition from New Zealand, which has hosted and won the tournament three times.

The World Cup is a quadrennial tournament contested by 16 teams. The hosts get automatic qualification along with the top five ranked countries. It’s estimated that Cape Town will welcome more than 100 000 visitors over the 10-day event.

“Africa is of importance to us. But that was not taken into account when we accepted the bids, we assessed what was presented. I would encourage countries that have never hosted before to take their chances. I’ve always thought that Africa has the capacity [to host the World Cup],” Rhone said.

Exporting talent to the world’s best

Africa is on the rise in the world of netball because of impressive performances against the top nations. South Africa, Malawi and Uganda are among the top 10 countries in the sport.

Malawi and Uganda have exported some of their best players to professional leagues around the world, including Peace Proscovia, captain of the She Cranes, as the Ugandan national team is known. The goal shooter spent a considerable amount of time in the United Kingdom, where she completed her masters degree in marketing, playing Super League with Loughborough Lightning. She is now based in Australia, where she plays for Sunshine Coast Lightning along with South Africa’s Phumza Maweni and Karla Pretorius.

NSA and the Department of Sport and Recreation have already started working on the legacy project that will benefit South African netball lovers and players after the tournament. Mossel Bay, George and Malmesbury in the Western Cape received two new courts each in February.

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The department’s director general, Alec Moemi, said more towns in the province and other regions in the country will have new courts built between now and 2023.

“Together with the government of the Western Cape, we will build in excess of 30 outdoor courts in the province. Each of the other provinces will receive two new courts. This is to ensure that the Premier League teams are comfortable. In addition to that, we have dedicated and committed ourselves to delivering a maximum of four courts to Netball Africa. These would be utilised for continental competition, the African Diamond Challenge and make it like the football Africa Cup of Nations,” said Moemi.

Netball is a minority sport in the country. There is no professional structure in place. Instead, there is a semi-professional league that was launched in 2014 and runs for six weeks because most of the players have professional careers outside the sport. The league is the only one of its kind on the continent.

Attracting sponsors

There are eight senior national team players, including captain Bongiwe Msomi and her deputy Pretorius, who play in professional leagues in the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. One of the most important legacies from hosting the World Cup would be having a professional league.

Hosting the World Cup will play a vital role in pulling in sponsors for the semi-professional netball league, which is currently without a headline sponsor after South African Breweries pulled out. The beverage company had naming rights of the Brutal Fruit Netball Premier League and had partnered with NSA since 2014. But the good news is that Puma recently became the national team’s apparel sponsor.

Spar also continues to support netball and the Spar Proteas are a team on the rise. They held their own in the Sanzea Quad Series in England, returning home with a victory over the hosts, and pushed New Zealand to extra time in a thrilling encounter.

A professional structure would help the players take their game to the next level, so as to continue holding their own against the best in the world. It would also go a long way in growing netball in the country, a sport that’s the most widely played by women from schools right up to the senior national team level.

NSA president Cecilia Molokwane says hosting the World Cup will not only benefit the country but also the continent.

“It’s going to change what netball looks like,” Molokwane said. “Netball will definitely turn professional [in the country]. We know after the World Cup there are a lot of things coming. It will help Africa become a better continent when it comes to netball.”

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