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