Dr Particia Butcher, president of the T&T Netball Association (TTNA), fully support the drive to see netball become part of the Olympic Games but understands the limitations that have prevented the sport from being eligible.
On Monday in an interview on Sky Sports, International Netball Federation Liz Nicholl shared that the sport’s inclusion in the Olympics is still high on the body’s agenda.
She said, “It is an ambition of our members to be an Olympic sport. I don’t think it’s going to happen in the short term. I think the important thing is to be very clear about the criteria that the Olympic committee uses when judging whether events should be in or out.
“I think that we also have to be conscious that the programme schedule changes. So, even if you were in, it doesn’t mean that you’re in for a long time.”
Netball has been a part of the Commonwealth Games since 1998 and the sport has hosted its own World Cup since 1963, however, it hasn’t been included in the Olympic Games.
The push for the inclusion of netball, which according to the INF is played by some 20 million people around the world in more than 80 countries, in the Olympics, is nothing new.
“Since under former INF president Molly Rhone, we’ve been trying to get netball as part of the Games. But I’ve always felt that there are several factors as to why the sport has not been included, like not enough men play the sport, not enough spectators following the sport,” said Butcher, backing the INF president, who shared on the programme that inclusion in the world’s largest multi-sport event remains on netball’s radar.
“There are a whole group of criteria, which are probably reviewed by the Olympic committee very regularly as well,” Nicholl said, shedding some light on the standards and specifics sports need to show to press their cases for inclusion.
“At the heart of it, it’s about eyeballs on the sport. It’s about how many people are followers of this sport and how many people around the world. So, we have got to grow our sport to be able to be credible applicants.
“We’ve got to grow the number of nations that are regularly competing, we’ve got to grow the number of supporters and followers. So, that’s what we’re working on. Our strategy, we’re doing it for ourselves as it’s good for netball anyway, but as a consequence, it should position us better in the future for that Olympic opportunity.”
Currently, 72 National Netball Associations are affiliated to the INF, which is the sole, internationally recognised, governing body for netball, affiliated to GAISF, the International World Games Association and the Association of Recognised International Sports Federations, receiving funding from the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The associations are grouped into five regions – Africa, Asia, Americas, Europe and Oceania – each with a respective regional federation, catering solely to women players.
However, the Olympic Charter states that to be accepted, a sport must be widely practised by men in at least 75 countries and on four continents and by women in no fewer than 40 countries and on three continents. The sport must also increase the ‘‘value and appeal’’ of the Olympic Games and retain and reflect its modern traditions.
Butcher pointed out that the sport could be expanded in the above regions and cited that the possibility of having mixed teams participate and competing in the Fast5 format, could spark interest when looking at an increase in spectatorship and sponsorship.
“I was just thinking that the similarity of our game to basketball may be a factor preventing us from being included. The innovation of the mixed teams may be an interesting/attractive factor that can make our sport worthy for inclusion as an Olympic sport.
“Having mixed teams play can make a difference and give netball a greater edge. T&T is already a leader and innovator in this aspect.”
In recent years, local competitions including the Courts All Sectors Netball League (ASNL) and Lystra Lewis Port-of-Spain Netball League (LLPOSNL), have seen men’s players featured in the top divisions.
Nicholl shared that the high-paced format will likely be an option that netball may decide to take to the Olympics.
She said, “We are thinking about Fast5 netball as a product which might be more attractive in terms of that possibility [of having an Olympic presence]. We’re planning to test that out at the Commonwealth Youth Games next year.”