Could men’s net­ball turn pro?

The NZ men’s net­ball cham­pi­onships are be­ing held in In­ver­cargill. Sports re­porter asks whether men’s net­ball could one day be­come pro­fes­sional and make it to the Com­mon­wealth Games like the women’s game.

The Southland Times - - SPORT -

The in­clu­sion of both men and women’s rugby sev­ens in the Olympic Games has not only raised the pro­file of sev­ens rugby, but also the women’s game, with both New Zealand teams play­ing pro­fes­sion­ally in in­ter­na­tional tour­na­ments.

Net­ball is an­other pop­u­lar pro­fes­sional sport in New Zealand, with the ANZ Premier­ship and in­ter­na­tional game widely fol­lowed through­out New Zealand, but could the men’s game one day reach sim­i­lar lofty heights?

The NZ Men’s and Mixed As­so­ci­a­tion runs as its own en­tity but are an as­so­ciate mem­ber of Net­ball New Zealand who pro­vide some as­sis­tance when needed.

Could men’s net­ball turn pro­fes­sional?

‘‘To go pro­fes­sional, prob­a­bly that is a long way off, it in­volves a whole lot of sponsorship and fund­ing,’’ NZ Men’s and Mixed As­so­ci­a­tion pres­i­dent David Pa’alamo said.

‘‘Our as­so­ci­a­tion has changed in the last 34 years, I am not sure if we will ever get to the pro­fes­sional stage, I mean that takes a lot of fund­ing and a lot of or­gan­i­sa­tion, our or­gan­i­sa­tion is solely run by vol­un­teers, we don’t have any paid ad­min­is­tra­tors at all, so it is all done vol­un­tar­ily and each re­gion has set up them­selves and we just meet for those two an­nual tour­na­ments.’’

Net­ball NZ chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer Jen­nie Wyl­lie would not rule it out.

‘‘It is a never say never, but the com­mer­cial sup­port, the broad­cast and the base of par­tic­i­pa­tion would all lend it­self to be in place be­fore it could prob­a­bly take that step,’’ she said.

‘‘Well I think with a lot of sport you can look at the jour­ney it has taken to get the core game to the pro­fes­sional era, for ex­am­ple net­ball was purely am­a­teur around 15 years ago and it has taken that long for the game to de­velop and come to what we now have as a semi-pro­fes­sional era, so that has also been built on a legacy of hav­ing 146,000 peo­ple play­ing.’’ Com­mon­wealth Games en­try Men’s net­ball would need to grow glob­ally if it was to be­come part of a Com­mon­wealth Games.

Ob­vi­ously there is cri­te­ria set by the Olympic Com­mit­tee around any sport that par­tic­i­pates at that level, but I think what is re­ally key is that there are com­pet­i­tive men out there play­ing our sport, which is fan­tas­tic,’’ Wyl­lie said.

‘‘We bring some of the men’s team in against the Sil­ver Ferns as they want to have a run against the style that the men play, so for ex­am­ple if we were play­ing Ja­maica we would bring the men in and have a good crack at play­ing against them at train­ing, just to get a taste of that phys­i­cal­ity and their aerial game and all of that.’’

‘‘Men’s net­ball would face the same chal­lenge we had at an elite level net­ball needs to go global to re­ally have that as­pi­ra­tional el­e­ment for ei­ther a Com­mon­wealth Games or an Olympics.’’

Pa’alamo thinks that men’s net­ball would have to come un­der the um­brella of Net­ball NZ to have a shot at mak­ing the Com­mon­wealth Games and he is un­sure if that would ever hap­pen.

‘‘To be­come part of the Com­mon­wealth Games you would have to be­come part of the In­ter­na­tional Net­ball Fed­er­a­tion, so at the mo­ment net­ball is re­ally strong in Aus­trala­sia, it is prob­a­bly not as strong in other Com­mon­wealth coun­tries, it is in Eng­land and South Africa, but I guess you would say we are a mi­nor­ity sport in some of the other Com­mon­wealth coun­tries which is prob­a­bly where the is­sue is,’’ he said.

Be­com­ing a mem­ber of INF would take ‘‘some years’’ ac­cord­ing to Pa’alamo. Play­ers Gary Breen - South­land A cap­tain

Breen has been play­ing the sport for 18 years af­ter tak­ing up so­cial net­ball at univer­sity.

‘‘It is just a re­ally en­joy­able sport, it in­cor­po­rates a huge amount of skill and a lot of con­trol, you are only al­lowed in cer­tain ar­eas, you have to be care­ful with your foot­work, how long you hold the ball for, there is a lot of con­trol and skill in it,’’ he said.

He would love to see men’s net­ball grow into a pro­fes­sional sport wor­thy of in­clu­sion in the Com­mon­wealth Games.

‘‘Any­thing is pos­si­ble, that would be the ul­ti­mate goal and men’s net­ball is cer­tainly grow­ing na­tion­ally and in­ter­na­tion­ally, that is sort of high­lighted by the fact that we have three Aus­tralian teams here want­ing to com­pete in our na­tional com­pe­ti­tion this year,’’ he said.

‘‘Men’s net­ball as a sport is grow­ing and while it may not be in the im­me­di­ate fu­ture it cer­tainly would be a fan­tas­tic sport for peo­ple to see, we are get­ting rea­son­able crowds here par­tic­u­larly for the evening games and the peo­ple that are watch­ing are re­ally en­joy­ing it, it is re­ally good for spec­ta­tors.’’

Ben McAl­lis­ter - Aus­tralia 20s

McAl­lis­ter got into net­ball at high school be­fore de­cid­ing to ‘‘try out’’ for the Vic­to­rian team.

‘‘I can def­i­nitely see it be­ing an elite Olympic or Com­mon­wealth sport,’’ he said.

‘‘It has got a lot of po­ten­tial, it is pretty pro­fes­sional, but there is still room for im­prove­ment I see.’’

‘‘I guess just more teams, the games could be bet­ter qual­ity in some, less in oth­ers.’’

NZ Men’s Na­tional Cham­pi­onships

The four-day men’s na­tion­als are be­ing held at ILT Sta­dium South­land, with 18-teams and ap­prox­i­mately 1,800 peo­ple con­verg­ing on In­ver­cargill.

The tour­na­ment is in its 33rd year, with Christchurch claim­ing 18 ti­tles pre­vi­ously, while North Har­bour are the de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons head­ing into the fi­nal day of the 2017 cham­pi­onships.

The event also in­cludes three Aus­tralian teams and a num­ber of age group en­tries.

‘‘Most of our re­gions and zones are rep­re­sented at our tour­na­ments, we have two tour­na­ments a year, a mixed tour­na­ment which was held in Auck­land at Easter and can have about 25 teams then we have this tour­na­ment here which is an an­nual one in Septem­ber, which is our men’s na­tion­als,’’ Pa’alamo said.

‘‘That in­volves the open men which can be two sec­tions plus our un­der 23 grade, we like to have them all to­gether so the younger play­ers can see the more ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers play.’’

‘‘Usu­ally we have 20 or more teams, it is a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent this year it is in the South Is­land, so North Is­land teams prob­a­bly didn’t pre­pare early enough to get down here, but we have got three Aussie teams here as well, the Aus­tralians have been com­ing to us for about five years tak­ing part in our na­tion­als.’’ The growth of the game Ac­cord­ing to for­mer elite level um­pire David Pa’alamo the sport is grow­ing with six age group teams en­ter­ing the tour­na­ment, in­clud­ing two from Aus­tralia.

‘‘Gen­er­ally we have our na­tion­als in ar­eas which are easy to get to, so next year they are in Welling­ton which is fi­nan­cially eas­ier for teams to get to, but yip we have had lots of growth, Ro­torua is here with an un­der-23 team, Christchurch has come back with an un­der-23 team, they didn’t have one last year, that is good, we are see­ing a bit of a growth pat­tern,’’ he said.

‘‘We have never had men’s na­tion­als down here be­fore the first time ever, so that is a first.’’

‘‘We do have some good young play­ers out there, we are re­ally try­ing to build up that youth, so that there is a good base to take over, but also to make sure our sport is grow­ing all the time.’’

The men’s sport has also grown in South­land, with two teams en­tered in the na­tional cham­pi­onships, while there was a new mixed/men’s South­land-wide club com­pe­ti­tion this year fea­tur­ing four teams in­volved, af­ter the St Mary’s Men team pre­vi­ously dom­i­nated the women’s com­pe­ti­tion in re­cent sea­sons.

Net­ball NZ are en­cour­ag­ing boys to com­pete in their ju­nior com­pe­ti­tions, by al­low­ing them to play with­out re­stric­tion up to the age of 12.

‘‘Ob­vi­ously as boys start to get more phys­i­cal and there is all of that de­vel­op­ment that hap­pens around that age of 13 there isn’t a re­stric­tion, but we do en­cour­age cen­tres to grant dis­pen­sa­tion where ap­pro­pri­ate and look at al­ter­na­tive com­pe­ti­tions for boys so that they are still able to con­tinue,’’ Wyl­lie said.

‘‘I think that is a re­ally ex­cit­ing de­vel­op­ment that has sort of hap­pened in that ju­nior space giv­ing boys an op­por­tu­nity to progress be­yond ju­nior as well.’’ Fund­ing NZ Men’s and Mixed As­so­ci­a­tion gets some fund­ing as an as­so­ci­ated mem­ber of Net­ball New Zealand.

‘‘Net­ball NZ gives us a cer­tain amount of funds each year which is re­ally help­ful, we do ap­ply for the sta­di­ums we have for fund­ing, that is re­ally im­por­tant, mi­nor­ity sports like us we rely on fund­ing for our venues for our events which is a huge cost,’’ Pa’alamo said.

‘‘The re­gions them­selves get their own fund­ing and most of them seem to do it re­ally well, I mean we have had lots of teams come for 33 years and I guess it is their love of the sport which makes them ei­ther pay for it out of their own pocket or get fund­ing out of their own re­gions.’’

JOHN HAWKINS/STUFF

South­land A wing at­tack Adam New­ton and cen­tre Os­car Jenk­ins flank­ing Christchurch B’s wing de­fence Darren Bur­nett dur­ing the NZ men’s net­ball cham­pi­onships at Sta­dium South­land.

JOHN HAWKINS/STUFF

NZ Men’s and Mixed Net­ball As­so­ci­a­tion pres­i­dent David Pa’alamo at the NZ men’s net­ball cham­pi­onships.

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