Ahead of the Netball World Cup (NWC) at the end of this week, former England Roses Captain, Pamela Cookey, shares her thoughts with the Women’s Sports Alliance on what fans can expect from the tournament, her advice for players, what the sport needs to do in order to secure further investment and more.
Netball has come a long way in recent years. The sport is now more visible than ever before, largely thanks to the fantastic coverage from Sky Sports, which has taken production to a new level. As a result, more and more games are being shown live and netball has become a showcase. This extra coverage means there is now more opportunity for young players to become a full-time netball player, both in England and overseas in Australia or New Zealand, with many even earning a living from the sport.
I believe netball is in a changing phase and trying to find its clear way as a sport. It’s currently hovering in a place and trying to find its position as a UK women’s sport, competing with cricket and football, and we are still attempting to find the best night of the week and time to broadcast in order to grow the fanbase. Having said that, it still remains one of the most popular women’s sports in the UK and one that is both an enjoyable and exciting sport to watch when performed by some of the best athletes in the world. This makes it ripe for investment.
The World Cup provides the perfect opportunity to give netball a try. It is the first time the NWC is being held in Africa and rumours are the event is going to be big and bold. For those staying in the UK there will be TV coverage far and wide with Sky Sports showing every single game across its channels and one game per day on the Sky Sports YouTube channel, while the BBC will also be covering all the games from day four onwards.
The tournament is likely to be a hit on social media too, with behind-the-scenes content from players and broadcasters. Also, the fact this is probably one of the most contested NWCs ever with final finishing places so hard to predict only adds to the spectacle.
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For those that get the netball bug on the back of the World Cup, my advice to you would be to ride with it and join a club. If playing is not your thing, become an umpire, administrator or volunteer, as all are so important to the game. Support your local Netball Super League team, go to the games and keep taking about the sport to help it continue to grow. We are also seeing more and more former players given media opportunities and that requires the same level of commitment as their playing days.
We only have to look at what the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games did for netball to realise the potential of this World Cup for the wider game. The CWGs contribute to a massive boost to people wanting to know more about the game, looking for clubs to join and watching live domestic and international matches. As a result, more sponsors wanted to be involved and if not for COVID, I think netball would be flying higher than ever.
Talking of sponsorships, there’s no denying netball requires further investment and in order to do that we need to create a more commercially viable product. I think an eight-team league would benefit to not spread teams so thinly and also have a strong feeder league below it to give more players opportunity.
We also need to improve the experience that surrounds the game. Quality venues between 3,000 to 10,000 capacity, half time shows, fan zones, merchandise, food and drink, interaction within the game as well as the high quality, competitive and professional standard of matches on court. Lastly broadcasting, all games need to be shown and at optimal times to reach a bigger audience.
In addition to sponsorship and improving the game experience, we also need to help players grow their personal brand. Back when I was playing there wasn’t too much support for this kind of thing, and I had to do it all myself. Now, thanks to organisations like the Women’s Sports Alliance (WSA), athletes have more access to support and information than ever before. There are such amazing stories, talents, skills and personalities within netball and the WSA shares these stories with everyone in a way they can understand and relate, whether netball aficionados or newbies.
Pamela also shares her predictions for the tournament.
Calling a winner is difficult, but here are my top finishers in no particular order:
• Jamaica have four players in the SSN team of the Year, coming so close in the CWGs this team are hungry, disciplined
and have a collective belief in each other. The bookends have always been strong but now they have shown the centre court can link nicely.
• New Zealand are reigning champions and they have an enhanced team from the CWGs. With Head coach Noeline Taurua, the tactical magician, they look dangerous.
• Australia are CWG champions and have every trophy under their belts in the last four years, except for the World Cup.
• England have been close, but results haven’t fallen their way of recent. I believe if they can pull together the big game players such as Elleanor Cardwell, Helen Housby, Geva Mentor and Funmi Fadoju and have the right execution as a squad, they can be successful.
• My dark horses are Tonga. They have climbed their way up to seventh in the world. Coach Jaqua Pori-Makea-Simpson has pulled together all quality players from around the world with Tongan decent into her squad, with the enhancement of former Australian Diamon Mo’ona Gerrard and Former Silver Fern Cat Tuivaiti looking to increase their ranking further.
Player to watch for the Roses
Ellie Cardwell – This lady has been a force at both GA and GS, she is strong, available, accurate on the shot from anywhere and hustles back to help her team in defence. Her confidence has grown massively and has also become a leader in the team to also lift others around her.