Could men’s netball be the answer to increasing the sport’s reach and market appeal?

What about men’s netball?

Often the first comment you’ll read below is a social media netball post.

Usually with a hint of sarcasm, from a disgruntled male sports fan. Trying to show their disapproval of the rise in popularity, funding and exposure of women’s sports.

But, sadly, maybe the trolls have a point on this one?

While other Australian codes – such as cricket, AFL, and the rugby league – have made key strides over the past decade towards gender equality, netball has placed a strong emphasis on participation. women and girls.

However, in recent years it has tried to find ways to grab the attention of more male viewers, with the number of broadcasts stagnating and the sport keen to grow its business assets and audience.

This has resulted in innovations in the rules of the Super Netball league, like the super shot, which certainly made headlines across the country for its controversial introduction last year; much to the chagrin of the majority of existing fans.

But maybe the answer actually lies in participation, with a number of male players believing that men’s netball could be the key.

Eugene Lee plays attacking goals for Australia’s Sonix.(

Source: May Bailey

)

Eugene Lee has represented Australia and New South Wales in sport and currently coaches women in elite tracks.

As the assistant coach of GWS Fury in the NSW Premier League Netball, he has a great understanding of the game and has a great relationship with many players.

“The majority of women who play at the Super Netball and Aussie Diamonds level are really supportive of the male side of things because at the end of the day we’re just netballers,” he told ABC.

“We train against each other on a weekly basis, and they understand the level of commitment we put in as players, training and working full time and having to fund ourselves for their trips and competitions. own pocket with very little recognition.

“So if you include men in netball you will find that there will naturally be more male viewers and that will trickle down to women as well, which will increase the number of viewers and the chances of more referrals.”

The reluctance of women in the game

A year after the invention of basketball in 1891, women’s basketball was developed with modified rules to ensure that the sport adheres to social conventions.

Rob Wright former Collingwood coach
Although it is a sport dominated by women, many men have made a name for themselves in the game as coaches and referees. Like Rob Wright, who coached the NSW Swifts before moving on to the Collingwod Magpies. (

AAP: Albert Pérez

)

As time passed and the rules of the women’s game evolved more, a new sport was invented entirely called netball.

From the start, the sport was therefore developed specifically for women and took place in a safe space, where its participants were treated as serious athletes and competitors, without male interference and without continuous comparison.

For a long time, sport continued to forge its own course, starting from scratch and firmly standing up for women and girls, while other sports discouraged and in some cases excluded women from participating.

The idea that men would then like a slice of the hard-earned netball pie, to develop better lanes and stronger men’s leagues, raises concerns for those deeply invested in the game, about what that would mean for women. practicing this sport and whether they would find themselves at a disadvantage if there were to be an equal distribution of resources for both sexes under a single governing body.

Generally speaking, boys in Australia are only allowed to play until the age of 12 at the base, which means that few boys play because there is no real way forward and no bright future in sport.

But many parents say they prefer it, fearing that brutal play and unfair advantage would become an issue if boys were allowed to play until their teens, as their bodies develop and get stronger during their teens. the puberty.

Nathan Dart is filming footage for Rising to the Occasion, the first documentary on men’s netball.(

Source: Supplied

)

Nathan Dart played competitively in the NSW Men’s League for many years and now directs the debut men’s netball documentary, titled Up to the occasion, which is expected to be released later this year.

Interviewing various stakeholders, directors and players across the country during filming, he told the ABC that the exhibit can help address these concerns.

“I think there are varying degrees and a spectrum of fear, but that’s helped by the exposure to the male side of the game,” Dart said.

“One of the particular goals of the documentary is to foster this awareness and visibility, to hopefully influence change and create momentum behind it.”

During the NSW Swifts preseason, the team played an exhibition game against the NSW Men’s Open Team which was streamed online for fans to watch.

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Eugene Lee starred in this match and agreed that people’s fear around the brutal girl-boy game could be alleviated by the exposure.

“Netball is such a unique sport where the main component of the game comes down to skill,” he said.

“There are things that women are better at, and there are things that we are better at, but the scores are generally close; it’s actually a lot more of a level contest than people think.”

Lee also suggested that more of these matches could be played for the public – even between Australia’s men’s and women’s teams – instead of being played behind closed doors, as typically happens in the preseason and national camps of Super Netball.

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“They’ve done it twice now, and I know, talking to some of my friends from that Kiwi team, that there have been so many young boys who have contacted associations and also men who have realized that there was an opportunity for them if they wanted to play.

“So this top-down approach helped develop the boys base across the divide and if Netball Australia could join us and help men’s netball by providing this level of exposure it would really help.”

Boys encouraged at school but not on weekends

Kirsten Beniham is the mother of four and her two youngest twins Georgie and James, 11, play elementary school netball together in the Sutherland Shire.

Students try out for these school netball teams and there is a general rule that no more than two boys can be on each side (although there are suggestions that this rule may have been relaxed).

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Beniham said his son was not interested in any of the other winter sports available at the school, but instead decided to try netball about three years ago.

“James helped Georgie practice in the court with the netball basket and that’s when he realized he was good at shooting,” Beniham said.

Although James has had the right to play grassroots netball at the local family association for the past few years, he doesn’t see the point.

“He’s not interested in playing on the weekends because he can’t play past a certain age anyway, so that was a deterrent,” she said.

“He also follows Georgie’s netball and sees girls and women everywhere, there aren’t even a lot of dads so there isn’t a male presence that he can relate to.

“If he was going to play outside of school, he would probably want to play in a more mixed environment, without the skirts and dresses.

Eugene Lee plays for Australia's men's team Sonix
Eugene Lee leaps up to defend a pass for Australian Sonix.(

Source: May Bailey

)

Lee quit netball after elementary school because, like James, he no longer had the opportunity to play.

But he did it again at the end of his high school years, only to get out of class.

While competing in an NSW Schools Cup tournament, Lee was spotted by a talent scout and invited to trial for the state’s underage boys team.

However, her story is quite rare, with many parents not even unaware that the teams exist.

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Good news, for the first time ever there will actually be an Under-14 division and an Under-16 division for junior boys introduced at the NSW Age Championships this year, featuring different associations from all over the world. ‘State.

Lee thinks this is a really positive step in the right direction, to keep boys from dropping out of sports.

“The paths for the boys are unclear at the moment, so there is a gray area in this 13-16 age group before they reach the men’s state teams and the M-League. . “

He also encouraged anyone who would like to try men’s or men’s netball, to contact through the Men’s Netball NSW website or the Facebook page.

“We’re always here to try to support people and encourage them whether they want to play or be an official or a referee,” he said.


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