Netball, men and the Olympics

This is a response to the BBC article of 2nd May 2018, which you can read here.

What a time to be a netballer in England. We’ve won Commonwealth gold, our team regularly appear on primetime TV and the issue of netball being excluded from the Olympics is back on the agenda. This is a huge opportunity for us to keep the momentum going and get some real change.

England Netball team celebrate their win on the beach

The England team celebrate their win. Copyright Netball Squad

I was concerned, then, to read comments from England Netball and the International Netball Federation in yesterday’s BBC article which suggested that neither organisation sees getting into the Olympics as their number one goal.

We all know the reasons netball should be the next sport to join the Olympics, but for it to happen it needs to be everyone’s top priority. The Olympics is the biggest sporting platform in the world – imagine the number of countries who would start seriously funding and developing a netball team once they see it on the Olympic schedule. There is some brilliant work going on at the moment to build netball teams in Europe and the US but getting into the Olympics would be the final push they all need.

Back in the UK, being an Olympic sport would be an absolute gamechanger. We would have a new GB team made up of the best players from each home nation, with new funding not only for these players but for the academies and franchises feeding through to the top squad.

Olympic membership would also help us with the second issue raised in the BBC article – getting men involved. I could write a whole other article about how asking netball to be gender equal before joining the Olympics is unfair, given that large numbers of current Olympic sports have only recently opened their doors to women; about how women’s sport is always held to a higher gender equality standard than men’s; about how you don’t hear the International Olympic Committee telling the FA they need to shut down operations until as many women play as men.

However, I would still be very interested to see the research behind Jo Adams’ statement of “all our insight says the second men start to play, women will stop”. While I love the fact that netball is the one sport where the women’s teams are the best, I can’t see that having men involved would take anything away from us. The England NETS teams are a great example of men representing the sport at an international level; on a local level, I know my club would love to have boys come and play. The problem at the moment is that we are a cash strapped sport relying on the goodwill of volunteers; as Tracey Neville says, we are struggling enough to keep the game going for the girls. Olympic inclusion would give us the extra funding, publicity and commercial revenue streams we need to begin to make our game gender equal.

The danger with comments like the ones in the BBC article is that people in power will read them and think we’re fine as we are; that we’re content to sit down and wait politely for sponsorship to find us. We need to use this gold medal opportunity to fight for a seat at the Olympic table. In the words of the great Ama Agbeze, if not now, when?