As the final whistle blew in Gaborone, the court was awash with both elation and despair. After a gruelling qualifying campaign, fifteen squads will be now be jetting off to Australia this coming August for the Netball World Cup. For some, it was easy – the top five seeds, along with the hosts – qualify automatically. For others, it has been a physical and emotional battle that will have undoubtedly left many completely drained.
Australia, New Zealand, England, Jamaica, Malawi and South Africa, Scotland, Wales, Samoa, Fiji, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Zambia and Uganda – These are the teams that will battle it out for global supremacy this summer. Each of them has earned their right to play at the sport’s highest level in front of what many believe will be the largest ever audience in the sport’s history.
Netball has long been derided for lacking the glamour of football or basketball, and – such is the world we live in – its lack of a professional men’s league has unfortunately led it to be dismissed as a credible, competitive sport. As a result, it rarely receives the funding it requires to allow these sportswomen to flourish. For many of the athletes at this summer’s World Cup, it will only be a holiday, a break from their working lives.
Taking a look at that list of countries again, however, shows netball for what it truly is. It is a non-discriminatory, all-encompassing phenomenon that sees more teams from all nations competing against each other. Rather than having teams involved that are treated as gimmicks, as also-rans, next year’s tournament may have some surprise packages. It’s guaranteed that every team will be taken seriously come August.
One of the most emotive stories of the whole qualifying campaign was that of Uganda. Like many of their African counterparts, funding is even more of a pressing issue there than in the more established countries, but Uganda’s achievement is the first of its kind for the country’s women. The country is competing at an elite level in a team sport for the first time since 1979. They have required the help, not just from their teammates on the court or their coaches on the training ground, but their government too.
Charles Bakkabulindi, Uganda’s Minster for State Sports, saw the positive effect the sport was having on the country. The achievements of the She-Cranes (as they are affectionately known) inspired him to act on a personal level, rather than wait for approval from the cash-strapped Treasury. ‘I went out of my way to borrow money for this team as we waited for money from the government’, he said, before adding, ‘I am proud that they have performed well’.
Performed well is something of an understatement – the She-Cranes won the first four of their qualifying matches, meaning their fifth and final match with much-fancied Zambia was a dead rubber. Since then, they have received an outpouring of goodwill from the global netball community.
The story of the She-Cranes is just one of the reasons why many are predicting this World Cup to be the most televised netball event of all time. More attention on a global scale can only be good for the sport, and here at Team Colours we expect grassroots netball to be further galvanised by the tournament – especially considering three of the four home nations are expected to stake huge claims to the overall crown. With the global appeal of the sport constantly increasing, campaigns we have seen in the UK, such as Back to Netball, will be hoping to capitalise and rekindle the widespread enthusiasm for the sport on a local level.
The only questions left to answer now are regarding who’ll come out on top come August next year. Can the romance continue for the She-Cranes? Will the hosts blow everyone off the court? Will one of the British nations bring netball home? Nobody knows. But what we do know is that excitement is already building all over the world. Australia 2015, here we come.