The Netball America team with students from the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, last week in Cape Town
CAPETOWN - Netball is the biggest women’s sport – and the second biggest sport overall – in South Africa, with hundreds of thousands of girls and women exposed to the sport every year.
There is fierce competition for places in national representative teams and South Africa is ranked fifth in the world.
The situation in the United States is very different. Netball America (NA) President Sonya Ottoway says NA struggled to put together a team, and had to travel far and wide to find eligible players to play in the inaugural World University Netball Championships (WUNC) in Cape Town.
“Netball has only been played in the United States for about 35 years, and was largely confined to expat communities from the Commonwealth,” she said. “Previous representative teams have been largely made up of Jamaicans, Australians and New Zealanders. We’re very proud that this team is totally American. Some of the players started playing netball only three months ago, but they have all got athletics backgrounds – some of them are former basketball players, and others played volleyball.”
While the Americans are unlikely to take home any medals, they have been involved in numerous community and charity programmes in the build-up to the WUNC, including supporting youth programmes in a village in Swaziland by supplying clothes and equipment.
Team USA has some strong links with South Africa as well. They started their South African tour with a visit to the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, with the aim of helping to inspire the students to believe that anything is possible. They also spoke to pupils, teachers and local community leaders about the value of sport and physical activity to academic success and lifelong achievement, as well as how sport can boost confidence and develop leadership skills.
The theme song for Team USA Netball is 'River of Life' which is a duet between Johannesburg resident Lebo Kgasapane and American Idol finalist Michael Johns. Lebo was a 21-year-old rape victim who died of AIDS at the young age of 22. Her dying wish was to sing on a CD the world would hear. Michael wrote a song, incorporated her voice and recorded this as a gift to her parents,” said Ottoway. “Michael is very supportive of our trip to South Africa and has given us this song to use as it is quite appropriate when he sings ‘We will always stand together’.”
President of Netball America Sonya Ottoway with students from the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, last week in Cape Town
Ottoway – herself a former Australian – believes this will be the last time the United States will struggle to make up a national team. “We are making progress in getting netball established as a sport,” she said. “We have recently concluded a contract with Miami Dade County education authority in Florida to start netball programmes in the 350 elementary and high schools in the county. We will also be launching netball programmes in more than 400 community sports centres run by the New York City Housing Authority.”
She said netball was also involved in President Obama’s Active Lifestyle Awards (Pala) programme. “Pala is trying to get girls and young women more involved in physical activity, and they are impressed by the cost-effectiveness of netball. Many girls find basketball very rough, and are likely to prefer netball,” she said.
She said that NA played matches as curtain-raisers to professional basketball matches as a means of promoting the game. “We put together two teams of top players for a match at Madison Square Gardens, and that was how we attracted the attention of the New York Housing Authority, who were blown away by the game. I see netball growing and growing in the future.”
(Source: Natasha Marot, OC)