Juliette Hughes from UBNC Netball shares:
The road to recognition
Basketball was born in Massachusetts in 1881, a high energy ball game that often resulted in injury. This aggressive game was not deemed suitable for girls or women living under the patriarchy and expected to uphold female values of etiquette. Therefore, the ‘unladylike’ sport was adapted until the game we recognise as Netball today was shaped in 1895 in the United Kingdom. Although its blueprints came from a male sport, it was made by women for women. In the late 1950s, as recognition and interest in the sport continued to grow, a standardised set of rules were produced solidifying it as a sport and displacing it as a game confined to Physical Education lessons.
However, the Sport is still struggling to get full recognition on a wider scale. If you asked anyone from the general public, off the street, boy or girl: “name a famous netball player”, their answer would most likely be: “not sure” or “I’ve never watched a game of netball”. However, ask them to name an elite athlete, they could probably roll call a fair few, predominantly male. It is a game of skill, agility, stamina, balance and strength which requires peak fitness levels and commitment. However, it falls short from being recognised on the British or international stage outside of a small community.
Netball finally became a “recognised” competitive sport and earned its place in the Commonwealth Games in 1998. However, although “recognised” as a competitive sport by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1995 it has still not made it to the Olympic stage. Why is that? In short – sports are assessed on different areas for their eligibility, one being how they are played ‘universally’. In a statement from the IOC they explain: “To qualify as an official Olympic sport, the sport must be played by men in 75 countries on at least four continents, and by women in 50 countries on at least three continents”. It is played across five continents and in 70 countries. The problem is this is mostly by women; few men play. Is it the lack of male engagement or male participation that causes the audience to turn a blind eye, as seen in other areas such as female football or rugby? Netball was adapted from basketball to create an opportunity for women; however, the game is still falling subject to the patriarchy and the world of sport which is dominated largely by men. It is a tragedy for those semi-professional players wanting to take their sport onto a bigger stage and show their passion to the world.
The British Super league team’s salaries are capped at £75,000 between 10 players, meaning each takes home £7,500. British Netball players are forced to have normal day jobs alongside their sport, or they flee to New Zealand or Australia where sponsorship deals can help them earn more doing what they love and are gifted at. Hopefully a new deal with Sky Sports, extending the streaming, may aid the games progress in reaching a wider audience.
Netball at Bristol
Being part of the University of Bristol Netball Society has elevated my University experience. Whilst we are encouraged to stay fit and healthy with regular training sessions as well as the committee arranging for maximum game play, it fosters a community and family. It is a sport that ultimately brings women together. I am proud to be a netball player and proud to be a part of the netball community. Going along and supporting the higher teams play and the eloquent skill they bring to each game is inspiring. They make you strive to play better. However, it also comes with a bittersweet feeling. You see first-hand, alongside balancing demanding degrees, how much effort and commitment the girls put into a sport they love. They work hard alongside their coach, but even those who go on to play semi-professional have a slim chance of turning their skill and passion into a full-time job in the UK.
This article is part of a themed content week celebrating Women in Sport. Thanks to all the teams and societies who have helped make this possible!