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Netball - 25. November 2011.

The Future is fast and furious says IFNA Cheif


Netball, the world's most popular team sport for women, has a fast and exciting future ahead, according to Urvasi Naidoo, CEO of the sport's governing body, the International Federation of Netball Associations (IFNA).  Talking exclusively to WSR ahead of this weekend's third annual World Netball Series in Liverpool, Ms Naidoo was confident of the competition's future development:

“Fast Net was developed in collaboration with the best teams in the world as a fast, exciting variant on the traditional game, and since its launch in 2009 has proved a hit with both players and spectators.  For some time, IFNA had been looking to implement a new annual tournament which would work as a showcase for netball in the intervening period between the World Netball Championships, which are held every four years.  Fast Net was the solution with its modified rules that include two point shots, six minute quarters, power plays and rolling substitutions.  

“Whatever the sport, the success of any new playing format is dependent upon its acceptance among grass roots players and we have been thrilled to see the development of Fast Net among club players, particularly in England.  In fact a regional competition is taking place at the same time as the World Netball Series featuring club players from across the country and we are confident that more players across the globe will use the format to increase competitive opportunities as the years progress.

“Fast Net offers a quick, intense entertainment experience that is thrilling to players, those watching on television and spectators at the Liverpool Echo Arena, where this weekend's competition is staged for the third year in succession. It has an electric atmosphere which fits well with the game's new format.  Liverpool City Council has been very supportive of netball and we are truly grateful for its continued commitment to our sport.”

The world's six top teams will be taking part in this weekend's competition, which has been won for the past two years by New Zealand's Fast Net Ferns.  With the trophy holders and the World Netball Champions, Australia, opting to bring mixed squads of players to compete, alongside England, Jamaica, South Africa and competition debutantes Fiji, the outcome of the 2011 competition is too close to call.

“We know from experience how exciting Fast Net is and how much fans enjoy watching it, but we will continue to watch and modify the game, perhaps with further rule amendments in the future if we feel we can make the game even more exhilarating for everyone involved.”

Away from the Fast Net courts, netball continues to grow in popularity around the world, thanks to IFNA's efforts in development.  As Ms Naidoo explained, new participants are joining the governing body all the time:

“We now have more than 75 countries playing netball regularly, with increased participation across the globe in all our regions and new member nations are joining IFNA each year.  There has been significant growth in Africa, where we have a Regional Development Manager in post:  Ethiopia is our newest member from that region, joining in July 2011.  In the past year, Europe has also seen an expansion in participation, away from Commonwealth nations, and we have been delighted to bring on board countries such as Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, Israel and Belgium.  We are aware that netball is being played in a number of other countries too, and we are confident that this growth in membership of the governing body will continue as our sport continues to increase in popularity.”

One of IFNA's most successful development initiatives has come in India, where the GOAL project has shown that netball can do so much more than simply offering exercise.

“GOAL is a ground-breaking scheme,” Ms Naidoo continued, “which uses netball to improve the lives and prospects of Indian women and girls from chronically deprived backgrounds.  The initiative was launched in Delhi in 2006, and expanded to Mumbai in 2008 and Chennai in 2009.  IFNA is currently examining ways to take the programme to other states in India, as well as to other countries which experience similar cultural and social barriers.

“Under the GOAL programme, netball is the female sport used to draw girls between the ages of 14 and 19 together, and give them a safe, social activity outside the family.  As well as engaging in sport, with the immediate fitness and social benefits that brings, they are taught basic life stills, which will help them to realise their true potential.  To graduate, each girl must complete four modules:  promotion of self confidence, communication skills, health and hygiene and financial literacy.  Once they have graduated, they can go on to become “Goal Champions” and be trained to deliver the curriculum and coach netball.  In exchange for their commitment, the girls are offered an opportunity to engage in an “economic empowerment pathway” through skill building, savings education and access to finance, which ultimately helps to reinforce their sense of self worth and assist their future development.

2011 has been a busy year for IFNA, with the staging of a very successful World Netball Championships in Singapore during the summer, as well as the World Netball Series.  But Ms Naidoo is keen to ensure that the association continues to progress and will not be resting on her laurels in the coming months.

“This summer's World Netball Championships in Singapore exceeded our expectations and were great for everyone involved – players, spectators, officials, delegates and volunteers.  We were incredibly fortunate to have some excellent supporters and sponsors on board, including our title sponsor Mission Foods, the Singapore Sports Council and Singapore Tourism, all of which contributed in some way to the success of the championships.

“Looking forwards, IFNA has launched a new five year strategic plan, which has measurable aspirations in five identified pillars – effective governance and administration, world class events, sustainable global development, quality officiating and quality coaching.  The plan sets out IFNA's ambitions for the continued expansion and development of netball in each of these key areas, and I am confident that with the support and assistance of our Members, we will continue to drive netball to new heights in the coming years.”

For more information about this weekend's World Netball Series and to book tickets, please visit www.worldnetballseries.com.
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