Fungayi Munyoro Post Correspondent
As the nation basks in the glory of The Gems — the senior netball national women’s team — the Zimbabwe Netball Association fixture secretary for Manicaland and national umpire Lawrence Ziko had this to say as he explains efforts made over the years to raise the level of the game of netball to the next level in the country:
“We are trying to make people understand more about netball but sport in general has been considered to be for men. We are trying to strike a balance between men and women.”
Ziko did not mince his words as he argued that the development of the game of netball has been hampered by the fact that sport in general is culturally more acceptable for men.
“Netball’s popularity declined during the year 2000 as a result of economic hardships. Courts were not maintained, leagues were closed and there were fewer competitions. We are picking up slowly. So far we have over 200 teams playing netball under Zimbabwe Netball Association.
“Netball in Zimbabwe has faced many challenges. Despite netball being the most popular women’s sport, no investment is being made into the sport. The country has few netball facilities, compared to soccer, which is much more popular. The sport has little support from the government,” he said.
Netball is a relatively old sport which has grown from humble roots in England to become a major sport throughout the world.
In fact, netball was the female version of basketball in England!
The game of netball traces its origins to England in the 1890s when the game was derived from an early version of basketball. A set of standard rules for international play was devised by the 1960s.
In 1891, an American school teacher by the name of James Naismith invented what has become one of the most popular sports in the world – basketball.
However, the accepted dress of 19th century women prevented them from participating in basketball in the same way men could.
They had trouble with movements such as dribbling and jumping. This led to female teachers putting their heads together and adapting the game to allow women to participate. The rules of netball (originally known as women’s basketball) can be traced back to this time.
It is thought that an American gym teacher called Clara Baer began to create official rules in 1898 when she asked Naismith for a copy of the rules of basketball. Using this copy, she identified the areas where ‘female basketball’ differed and modified the rules. This document formed the basis for the official rules as we know them today. In 1901, these rules were published and netball became an official competitive sport.
Rules changed according to location, and team sizes ranged from five to nine players on court at any one time. The rules were not standardised until almost 60 years later, when the International Federation of Women’s Basketball and Netball Associations was developed. The rules were officially standardised in 1960 at a conference in Sri Lanka which was attended by representatives from Australia, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, South Africa, The West Indies, and England.
Netball remains a popular sport throughout the world. According to the International Netball Federation (INF), over 20 million people from at least 80 countries play netball today. 74 of these countries have a national netball association, which is affiliated with the worldwide governing body. Netball is the most popular women’s team sport in both Australia and New Zealand.
The sport continues to develop as the INF looks to gain more exposure and make it more appealing to new players. From here, the sport quickly spread throughout the world.
A match at Madame Ostenburg’s College in 1895 was the first time the game was played in England.
In Zimbabwe, in the early 1950s, netball was primarily played by women and girls introduced into the game at primary schools.
Men have traditionally served as officials, coaches and administrators for the sport. This started to change at the turn of the new millennium with men forming their teams and leagues.
The sport quickly grabbed hold, with women mainly from the mines participating as a way to socialise. In schools, the game was very popular in primary schools.
Netball has grown from strength to strength with more athletes taking up the sport. Male netball competitions have begun to develop in recent times, and are becoming more and more popular every year. Men’s netball was introduced in 2008 and it was officially launched in 2018 in Harare.
In an interview with our sister paper, The Sunday Mail, one of the founders of the Zimbabwe Netball League Ledwin Dongo, said netball was already being played in the primary schools in the 1950s.
“I started netball when I was in standard four at Gokomere Primary School in 1959. I was also selected to represent the school’s senior team the same year,” she said.
According to Dondo, netball was intended for leisure and first played in mines and primary schools.
Top level teams in the country, prior to the 1990s, included Highlanders, St Marys Queens, Harare District, Three Brigade, Mhangura, Hwange Colliery, Redcliff. Most teams were from mines.
Women have historically dominated in leadership positions in the association but men are still involved, especially in roles like coaching.