Last week, netball Twitter went mad. I got locked out of my account twice for suspicious behaviour for retweeting so much (and saying YASSSS so often). Now the dust has settled, here are my thoughts on the events of last week.
If you can’t say anything nice…
Imagine sports editors not publishing anything after the final match of the Six Nations except for a sarky article about how rugby is uncool. Unthinkable, right? That’s what netball fans faced up to at the beginning of last week. We’d watched England take on Australia in an incredible match on Sunday (I think I was screaming for the whole last quarter), watched it live on BBC2 in a groundbreaking prime time slot and, as a result, saw #BBCNetball trending on Twitter.
Here’s THAT @kadburyz pass (listen closely for @mfixii ‘oh my god’) 🔥🔥🔥what a team, what a night – check out my Instagram story for more courtside action! #netball #bbcnetball #wembley #sport #womeninsport #skills #gif #video #highlight #london #londonlife #womeninsport @england.netball @bbcsport @skysports
Despite netball having almost identical participation figures to rugby, we were disappointed but unsurprised to find little-to-no mention of the Quad Series in the press*. What we were surprised about, though, was that they chose to scoff at the fact that England Netball was the sport set to receive the most funding from Sport England (£16.9m).
It hit a nerve.
For many people, the condescending tone of this week’s coverage was the final straw. The reporting ranged from an article in the Times saying the government was trying to ‘tempt women back’, to the Telegraph one remembering miserable PE days and questioning the wisdom of the England Netball funding, to the now infamous ‘netball isn’t cool’ opinion piece. They showed a total lack of understanding of the modern sport or awareness of its huge participation stats. It stung to have such negative coverage so soon after the high of the Quad Series.
Interesting week the UK media chose to netball-bash, with all top nations competing on their soil. The ignorance continues #doyourresearch
— Sara Bayman (@runlikeforrest) February 8, 2017
It turned out everyone was angry.
Players, coaches and fans took to Twitter to criticise the articles and question why the coverage had been so dismissive and negative.
Argh! Why is it such a problem that women might want to be good at sport and win?! Going back to netball after 10 yrs has been great for me https://t.co/iVhrGIeT4e
— Amy Blakemore (@Amylou125) February 9, 2017
On Thursday, Natalie Morris wrote a brilliant response on this site fighting back against the articles. It got huge support online, including from netball A-listers Tracey Neville, Karen Greig, Jo Harten, Gary Burgess, Anita Navin, Suzy Drayne and, of course, Ama Agbeze.
— Natalie Morris (@Nmozz) February 9, 2017
Then came Ama.
I called it on Sunday: Ama and Sharni are literally #captaingoals.
Sacha Shipway (netball player, journo, star of many a Netball Squad GIF) had done a great interview with Sharni after Sunday’s game and tweeted her about the Guardian article. Sharni responded:
— Sharni Layton (@Sharni_Layton) February 8, 2017
Like a true leader, Ama went one step further and wrote a brilliant response on Facebook defending netball and criticising the article. She made tons of excellent points, including why it’s pretty irresponsible to call a sport played by most of the UK’s teenage girls ‘uncool’.
“The only “bad rap” that netball has in the UK stems from it not being viewed by the majority of people, so they associate it with being at school, in cold and wet weather conditions”
-Ama Agbeze, England captain
She then went on Twitter and asked people to share their involvement in netball using #NetballOnTheRise.
— Ama Agbeze (@amaagbeze) February 9, 2017
Then came the netballing world
#NetballOnTheRise started trending and stayed that way. People stood up, Alcoholics Anonymous style, and declared themselves as netballers. The BBC picked up the story.
— Emily Perry (@EN_EmilyP) February 10, 2017
The global netball community coming out in force in support of our incredible sport…pretty darn cool we say! #NetballOnTheRise
— Netball Scotland (@NetballScotland) February 11, 2017
‘Positive’ articles have been published now but there’s still a long way to go.
(Note: I started summarising the week’s press coverage, got really carried away and wrote loads, so I’ve moved it to the end of this article for anyone interested).
Some of the papers have backtracked and published new, more positive articles. Although the tone isn’t outright dismissive any more, it’s still generally one of ‘gosh this ladies’ netball thing is quite popular isn’t it’. That’s pretty different to the front page, rolling-news treatment rugby has been getting:
Note to editors: netball being popular is extremely old news. Let’s please move the conversation on. I want a world where panels of players and pundits talk in depth about Team Bath’s centre pass strategy, where journalists endlessly speculate about what Tracey Neville’s team selection plans are, where debate about Geva Mentor’s next club move dominates the back pages.
I’ve learnt how important TV coverage is.
If I had a penny for every time I’ve heard someone say something totally wrong about netball, like ‘you can’t move with the ball’ or ‘it’s non-contact’ or ‘it’s slow/boring’…
Great to finally meet @netballsquad tonight at a Safeguarding course. Jointly shot down the instructor when he implied netball was static 👊🏻
— Helen Lloyd (@h__lloyd) September 27, 2016
I’ve realised showing brilliant international matches like the England/Australia match is crucial for changing perceptions. I read so many tweets last Sunday from people who’d never watched a netball match before, but had their opinions of it totally changed by the BBC programme (yet another reason for it to be in the Olympics) (couldn’t go a whole article without mentioning it)
I’m watching England vs Oz in netball on BBC2. For the 1st time I really see the point of netball. It’s so good I might not watch the rugby!
— Wyn Evans (@rwe1) February 5, 2017
I’ve also learned that we are a pretty badass group of people.
Last week, between us we managed to get netball trending on Twitter for most of the week, new articles written by the papers and joined forces with people from around the world to defend women’s sport. Not bad for a group of ‘ruthless teenage girls‘.
— Lesley Tischler (@Lesleytischler) February 10, 2017
*other than our trusty supporters at Sky, of course, and now the BBC as well
We are proud to show netball #NetballOnTheRise
— Sky Sports Netball (@SkyNetball) February 10, 2017
Press Roundup For Anyone Still Reading
Here I review the week’s netball coverage. Includes ratings out of 5 for condescension and constant references to the Gold Standard of netball reporting set by Emma John.
The Telegraph‘s new article from the end of the week is a vast improvement on their terrible one at the start of it. The new piece is written by an actual netball player and includes quotes from actual netball players. I am also pretty sure she’s read Emma John.
If I could package up the feeling after a game and sell it, I would be worth a mint.
-Telegraph netball captain
The Week did a pretty spot-on summary of the drama.
The Guardian released Erin Delahunty’s latest position guide, which was great, but then took the brunt of the criticism with the ‘netball isn’t cool’ article. UPDATE: they then ran with Tamsin’s article, so all is (almost) forgiven.
The Times are up to a grand total of four articles: at the beginning of the week they ran with one pretty condescending one (direct quotes: “Older women are returning to netball, which has a low rate of injury because there is no contact”/”A desperate attempt to relive the glory days playing for the under-15s, or a good excuse to avoid the gym?”) and one factual but led by that strange description of the government trying to ‘tempt women into netball kit’.
Their response later in the week was to publish another which was actually fairly decent and written by a netballer – but it still had to have the title Netball isn’t for gangly geeks and be prefaced by a ‘hey lads isn’t netball shit’ intro:
The Express totally failed to read the room and published this bad boy on the 11th:
Sacha Shipway did some brilliant post-match interviews that Ama refers to in her Facebook post.
Independent magazine Refinery29 also published a great piece, condescension level 0/5.
Last time I looked, netball in 2017 was a seamless formula of agility, accuracy, sweat and a whole lot of female power.-Anna Jay for Refinery29
Manchester Thunder reporter Denise Evans wrote a blog post about her experiences in netball and why it deserves so much better:
I’ve seen the frustration, hurt and anger caused by throwaway phrases like ‘ netball isn’t a proper sport’ or ‘you should only play netball at school’.