New Zealand is the undoubted home of netball – everyone understands it, everyone knows about. Much of that awareness is down to the fact that, as part of its charter to broadcast, TV NZ has an obligation to screen women’s sport as at least 50% of its output – and when you’re doing well, what better sport to show than one where the players look so great and are such great ambassadors to for the sport
Even the Silver Ferns’ warm ups are mobbed with people standing courtside, waiting for their photographs, their autographs, their moments in the same frame as their heroines. And yet, there are still some very odd elements which are at odds with the image of a modern progressive sport.
The Trusts stadium is home to the Auckland Diamonds from the New Zealand’s now defunct National Bank Cup – situated at the end of a big retail park, it seems more akin in size to the Brighton Centre than Wembley. Certainly, I was expecting a bigger and more impressively appointed stadium from a nation where netball is watched so fanatically.
Even more bizarre, in use courtside are flip over scoreboards of the sort you see at school and club matches in England. Yes, there is a big scoreboard suspended from the ceiling in the centre of the court, which is more usually used for basketball, but it is a long way from the court, and looks at odds with what promised to be a state of the art venue. But then, a court with the lines from basketball taped over is far from what was anticipated – our Super league with its super-slick laminated floors and clean playing areas are light years away from the court being used for this competition.
The quarter final line up was confirmed today – the biggest shock was the failure of Fiji, always ranked in the top 8, to get past the relative minnows of the Cook Islands. After all the turmoil in Fijian netball recently, with the removal of the World Championships and the ban on two of their players from travelling because of their military connections, this really did top off a hideous year for the Pacific islanders.
New Zealand were more than a little flat in their 76 20 win over Botswana and could be surprised by the guts and grit of the South Africans in the quarter finals, who lost their final group match to a clinical England performance 62-32. England now face Malawi, led by the inspirational Mary Waya, in the quarter finals. Elsewhere, Australia crushed Scotland 93-20 but lost midcourter Selina Gilsenan with an ankle injury in a bad-tempered match. Wales fought hard, but disappointingly lost out to Malawi 55-52, and will now contest 9-16th places with Scotland.
Tomorrow is a rest day for the top eight teams, while the rest start the battle for the minor places.