Netball. Encyclopedia of World Sport

Netball is one of many sports that developed its unique
form and structure from another, transplanted sport—
in this case, from the United States to Great Britain—
and then, as a result of that move, evolving into a significantly different sport. Netball was introduced to
England in 1895 as the indoor game of basketball,
which it greatly resembles, although a staccato game
and a sport of stop, start, catch, and shoot compared to
the all-action fluidity of basketball.
The development of netball was much influenced by
the Ling Association, an organization founded in England in 1899 to represent the professional and academic interests of physical educators. They saw the
great education potential in the game, if only the motley assortment of rules could be compressed into one
standard set of laws.With this in mind, a Ling Committee subcommittee drafted a set of rules that established
a transatlantic compromise. Goals were to be replaced
by points, and a shooting circle was introduced—these
elements were part of the American game. Baskets were
replaced by rings and nets; the name netball, rather
than women’s basketball, came into use.
In 1905 these English rules were introduced to Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, as well as the United States,
Canada, France, and South Africa. The game was hailed
for the sense of “control”it gave its players. This concept of “control” seems critical in understanding why a distinctly unmodern game received such vigorous support from athletic administrators and educational
leaders: there is an absence of rhythm, speed, contact
or collision, and all-out aggression, and points are not
scored as a frantic climax to a sequence of strategies. It
seemed to epitomize notions of rational recreation and
a qualified acceptance of a liberation (of sorts) for
women on the playing field. The game reaffirmed society’s views of how women should behave. They could
run and catch and be competitive, but the unrestrained
athleticism of other ball games (for example, women’s
field hockey with a sprinting female capable of firing a
shot at goal) was outlawed. Indeed, the set shot, when a
netball player sets up and attempts a scoring shot, is a
moment of “frozen” sports time with a virtual absence
of offensive or defensive movement. Netball seems disciplined and orderly, a sport in which team tactics and
an intelligent distribution of the ball takes precedence
over individual flair and muscular exuberance.
The All-England Women’s Netball Association was
founded in 1926. During the 1930s many English
county associations were formed.
From 1935 to 1956 netball experienced significant
expansion and development despite the occurrence of
World War II (1939–1945). There was the publicity and
promotional momentum provided by the publication
of Netball Magazine (1935) and Netball (1949). The
British Broadcasting Corporation had its first radio
broadcast of a game in 1947, the same year that a
British netball team went abroad. That they visited
Prague, Czechoslovakia, is noteworthy as the Iron Curtain was firmly in place and any type of cultural tour to
communist satellite countries was rare.
Netball’s shift from its school base to a broad platform of community, club, and university support
largely explains its growth since World War II. The first
world tournament in 1963 was attended by Australia,
Ceylon, England, Jamaica, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Scotland, South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago,
Wales, and West Indies.
The game continues to adapt itself to the changing
needs of different cultures and communities. In New
Zealand a new form of the sport called “Kiwi Netball”
is specially constructed for younger players. It can be
played by females or males, or it can be a coeducational
activity. The ball is smaller, the goalposts are lower, and
different scoring systems provide many more scoring
opportunities for participants. Nevertheless, this children’s version of netball stays true to the basic essence
of the senior game.
One of the most revealing statistical surveys on netball participation comes from the Life in New Zealand
Survey. This 1991 national review indicates that 26 percent of New Zealand females aged 15 to 18 years participate regularly in netball. Among New Zealand
Maori females, 25 percent played netball. This was the
third most popular form of recreational activity after
aerobics/jazzercise and swimming/diving/water polo.
Netball, which has never threatened to enter the
Olympic arena, does have its own world championship.
In the 1980s and 1990s the most exciting teams have
been from the West Indies and Australia.Although netball was a demonstration sport at the XIVth Commonwealth Games in Auckland in 1990, it remains essentially a low-key sport.