The Cathedral City Light Fastnet Grand Prix reaches an exciting finale in Surrey on Friday, and will demonstrate an increasing popularity and acceptance of netballs speedy new variation; netball fastnet. Since its inception a few years ago aiming to make netball faster and more high-profile, similar to cricket’s twenty20 and rugby sevens, the new game has recharged netball in the UK particularly. Both England’s international side and national league have already felt the benefits of fastnet and it shows no signs of slowing its momentum.
The key rule changes of fastnet are quicker games and higher points scoring. Quarters are shortened from 15 minutes to 6 with 2 minute breaks, with injury time outs shortened to just 30 seconds. Similarly to basketball there are ‘2 pointers’ when points are scored from outside the shooting circle, and a ‘powerplay’ quarter in which a teams points count double. Other rules include rolling substitutes, in play coaching and penalty shoot-outs, all helping to make netball more tactical, more competitive and (hopefully) more entertaining.
The fastnet game was first tested and developed in England, before it made its first major involvement in the World Netball Series – an international tournament also hosted in England until now. England have always struggled to beat top sides Australia and New Zealand at major finals, partly due to the professional national leagues of those countries, but came away with the WNS last year for the first time, home advantage aside England seem well adapted to the demands of fastnet play.
Now Englands top league the FIAT Superleague hosts a netball grand prix in build up to the regular season and has drawn massive crowds up and down the country. The competition was kept close with many close draws and tighter scores, the coming season promises to be much closer and provide more unlikely results. Surrey Storm and Northern Thunder were able to win at the weekend and now go into Friday as favourites, but nothing is guaranteed in the current exciting new formats.
The recent popularity of fastnet has given great energy to one of the UK’s most popular sports, but if the coverage, audiences and success can continue long into the future then it could have great rewards for the sport of netball itself and the ambitions of womens sport.