IT'S a fast break. Keeley Devery gets the rebound and fires the
ball to teammate Carissa Dalwood, who whips it to Shelley O'Donnell.
Without the ball ever touching the floor, Vicki Wilson sinks the
It may sound like basketball, but it's netball as played in the
8th World Championships on July 13, when Australia squeaked by New
Netball differs from basketball because it lacks dribbling, a
backboard, outside shooting, slam dunks, and big money. Instead, it
features team play, snappy passes, and aggressive defense.
The International Federation of Netball Associations (IFNA)
estimates there are 2 million active netball players in 36 member
countries. Twenty nations came to the championships, including the
first team to compete in any international competition from newly
Netball's strong points have helped to make it the most popular
female sport in Australia and New Zealand. The All Australia Netball
Association estimates that at least 750,000 Aussie women are
involved in organized play.
In New Zealand, 150,000 women, or 10 percent of the female
population, go for the hoops in organized play. Sheryl Dawson, a
member of the Netball New Zealand Executive, says some Kiwi women
continue playing netball until past the age of 60. The international
games of the national team are broadcast live on New Zealand
television. "It has a very high profile," she says.
The attraction to women has not been lost on sponsors. Mobil Oil
has made a three-year commitment to a "super league" of the best
state teams, at a cost of A$750,000 (US$578,000; later dollar
references are for Australian currency). The Mobil series was
televised this year by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation,
which does not accept advertising. According to an ABC spokesman, it
consistently received "healthy" ratings.
Johnson & Johnson has spent more than $1 million over the past
three years on sponsorship; they underwrote the championship series
this year. "Most of our target group is netball age," says marketing
director Barry Fitzgibbon, who has yet to negotiate a contract on
Netball's popularity stems from the fact that it is a true team
sport, requiring a minimum of athletic ability to enjoy. "You don't
have to be any particular size and shape," explains Ms. Devery.
There are positions for short girls, for example. "You can be one of
those nippy people who bring the ball up, so everyone has got
something they bring to the game," says Devery (who is almost six
The Australians are working hard to spread the game around the
world. IFNA hopes to make netball an Olympic sport some day and
needs to get more countries involved. Last year, the Aussies sent a
delegation to the Beijing and Nanjing Institutes of Physical
Education in China. The Japanese have sent observers to the world
However, getting the sport organized in the United States has
been difficult. Dorothy McHugh, general secretary for IFNA, says
there are only five or six states where the sport is played. "It's
mainly played by the West Indians," she says. So far, IFNA has been
unable to get any of the groups to organize a national association.
"We're going to make a thrust into the US to try to overcome this -
it's one of our highest priorities," she says.
Trying to get Americans interested will take some work. An
American who has played the game found it frustrating. …