Take Netball off the Bench during the Olympics
'It may be a surprise to many of you that netball has never been in the Olympics'
Chloe Vialou-Clark | 24 January 2016

It may be a surprise to many of you that netball has never been in the Olympics. This internationally acclaimed sport has over 20 million players in 70 different countries across all continents. It has its own World Cup competition, numerous national leagues and is represented in the Commonwealth Games. Oddly enough, it was actually formally classified as an Olympic sport in 1995, but it still has not achieved one of the esteemed 28 places in the ultimate international sports competition. It is definitely time to take netball off the bench!

The International Netball Federation has invested a staggering £25 million for the years 2013-2017 to improve and publicise netball around the world. It is an amazingly popular sport across the United Kingdom in particular, not only being one of the most-played sports by school girls but also in universities. So what could it possibly be missing to result in its absence on the world’s biggest sporting stage? The International Olympic Committee (IOC) claims that the sport is not world-renowned, as it is not played in Russia, China or the United States. Admittedly, these three major nations constitute a large population, limiting netball’s global popularity. However, the knowledge of the game in the United States is growing at a staggering pace, and the number of players is accumulating quickly. If this really is the IOC’s main argument against adding netball to the list of Olympic events, then how has Greco-Roman wrestling made an appearance in each edition since 1908? It hardly seems fair not to include netball, considering how obscure some other sports are in comparison.

Another major qualm that the IOC has with netball, is the fact it is only available to women. In recent years, the Olympic organisers have strived for obvious gender equality and by including this sport, may arguably be a set-back for their ethos. However, during the most recent Olympic Games, in London 2012, only 44% of the competitors were women. Introducing netball would increase the gender equality and encourage female involvement in all sports.

Netball receives remarkably less coverage across the world than other major sports, such as rugby and football. Being a fast-paced, athletic and surprisingly physical game, there is no reason why it should be any less popular. Those of you who have not seen a netball game may assume that not being able to move with the ball constitutes a terribly boring and stagnant game. However, netball players at a high level are able to catch, pass and re-offer with such fluidity that spectators get the false impression that they are not playing by the rules. Even though it is deemed as a “non-contact” sport, the physicality of the game is staggering and the speed and hand-eye co-ordination required is very challenging. To put this into perspective, did you know, that playing a competitive club game of netball will burn an average of more than 580 calories – the equivalent of 3 cans of Coca-Cola, the same as a high paced lacrosse game.

The inclusion of netball in the select sports chosen for the Commonwealth Games should give an indication of its viability. During the most recent Commonwealth Games, in Glasgow 2014, the incredible venue chosen to house the netball games was the SSE Hydro, with the capacity to hold 13,000 spectators. The immense support shown for this particular sport alone should give you an indication of its popularity.

So if I have not convinced you of my case quite yet, just flick onto Sky Sports to see a phenomenally athletic and fast-paced super-league match of netball, and I am sure you will change your mind.

 

Original image by Chloe Vialou-Clark

James Routledge 2016