Christmas has a different meaning for different people around the world but for many it is a time of joy and kindness and a time to pause, celebrate and reflect.
As we in the Netball family reflect on 2020, we will undoubtedly think about the extraordinary year and the global challenge of the pandemic. In doing so we should reflect with huge pride, because our netball family has shown incredible courage, resilience, commitment, and compassion in the face of adversity and we have all adapted to new ways of working as the world around us changed.
It was very sad to see the profound impact the pandemic had in our communities and on our sport, our Members, and the netball family. During this incredibly testing time, it was important that we came together to draw on our commitment to ‘being a socially responsible sports movement’ and, where we could, extend our hands of friendship to help others. Through words and actions, the netball family went above and beyond to ensure netball continued through online initiatives that encouraged learning, training, and well-being. It is these inspiring initiatives, created by our Member nations, engaging our netball communities around the world, that make me proud of everything that has been achieved this year.
Examples of on-line inspirations from the netball family:
- ‘Coaching From Home’ sessions with SPAR Proteas Assistant Coach, Chauke Dumisani
- England Netball’s Virtual Netball Club and Net-Fix sessions
- Netball Australia’s partnership with NETFIT Netball to launch free online sessions
- Netball New Zealand’s Coaches Korero
- Home Nations (Europe) ‘#TogetherWeAreNetball’ campaign
- Netball Argentina virtual training
- Samoa’s Umpiring Workshops
- South Africa’s Lockdown TV
With every challenge there is also an opportunity, the most obvious one being changes to how we communicated more frequently and relatively easily on-line. At an international level it has enabled us to communicate and consult more than in any previous year, through a series of virtual Regional Roadshows. This on-line engagement has been invaluable and will continue as we move through 2021.
We surveyed our Members to understand better the impact of COVID-19 and consulted on how best to provide support. It informed our decisions to create a ‘COVID-19 Response Fund’ for each Region to provide financial support to Members and informed our decision to reduce our Membership fees for 2021 to provide ongoing relief.
Many of you also contributed through Regional Roadshows to the development of our new strategic plan that is ambitious and progressive and builds on Netball 2020. You helped us refine the purpose, vision, mission, core strategies and values and I thank our Members and Regions for their input and support. Board is now planning to launch the new strategic plan in the first quarter of 2021.
INF and NETFIT Netball hosted a 24-Hour Live Netball Marathon. This unique event was the first of its kind and was live-streamed to over 150,000 people in every continent across the globe. From Venezuela to Zambia, Scotland to Singapore, and Brunei to Barbados, we experienced the true passion and energy of the netball family through virtual netball sessions. Over $4,000 was raised for Member nations that have been impacted by the pandemic. Thank you to all the athletes, umpires, and coaches for giving your time to inspire others. Thank you to the netball family for your generous donations and to NETFIT Netball for helping to create this great event.
Working behind the scenes, the Rules Advisory Panel had the pleasure of bringing their hard work to life in the form of a Rules of Netball app which launched in October. Available free on iOS and Android devices, the app is the first of its kind for international netball putting the rules of the game into a digital format for umpires, coaches, players, and fans around the world.
Let’s not forget some of the highlights at the start of the year. The Vitality Netball Nations Cup took place in January across three venues in England where New Zealand, Australia, Jamaica, and South Africa came together to brilliantly showcase our sport at the elite level. Congratulations to the Silver Ferns who were crowned champions of a very successful series.
From February it was becoming clear that competitions from local to international could not be held and some members became concerned about implications for World Rankings and Commonwealth Games 2022 qualification. An online World Rankings webinar provided guidance and assurance for 75 attendees from Member countries in addition to members from our Rules Advisory Panel (RAP) and Coaching Advisory Panel (CAP). It was also announced that the number of matches required to obtain a ranking would be decreased from eight to six to take into consideration the postponement and cancellation of matches due to Coronavirus.
From June onwards, some Members began to return to the court. From grass-roots netball in Switzerland and Hong Kong to the ANZ Premiership, Suncorp Super Netball, and Telkom Netball League. In November international netball returned to our screens for the first time since January as the Silver Ferns took on the Vitality Roses in the Cadbury Netball Series, and South Africa played Malawi in the 2020 SPAR Challenge. Congratulations to the Silver Ferns and SPAR Proteas on winning their series. With the announcement of more international netball in 2021, we are excited for the future and a return to normality on the court.
At times like this leadership is critical and a safe return to play has required very complex planning and adherence to strict protocols. I have been mightily impressed by the quality of leadership in our nations and Regions and we should all feel proud of our colleagues who have gripped the challenge and so willingly shared their experience to help others.
One year from the start of competition, INF Board confirmed the postponement of the Netball World Youth Cup 2021 from June due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Now, in consultation with the host country Fiji and the 20 qualifying teams we are delighted to have agreed new dates for 2nd – 11th December 2021. The Netball World Youth Cup is the pinnacle of competition for emerging players and, whilst we look forward to seeing Fiji host another world netball event, we continue to monitor COVID-19 on a regular basis in liaison with the Fijian Government and our Member nations to ensure the event can go ahead safely and ensure the health and wellbeing of the Netball family.
Despite a year of challenges, we had the opportunity for celebration when the Vitality Netball World Cup 2019 won ‘Sports Event of the Year’ at the Sports Industry Awards 2020. The awards are the largest commercial sports awards in the world making it an outstanding achievement for netball. Vitality, the title sponsor for the Netball World Cup 2019, also won ‘Event or Competition Sponsorship Award’. INF was recognised for its work in Governance as it was shortlisted for ‘Project of the Year’ at The Chartered Governance Institute Awards 2020. The Vitality Netball World Cup 2019 also won a silver award in the ‘Best Sports Event of the Year’ category at the Sports Business Awards 2020 which were announced this week.
Now in the final weeks of the year we are concluding the bidding process for the Netball World Youth Cup 2025 and the Netball World Cup 2027. We are thrilled to receive strong and viable bids for these events, and we plan to announce the hosts in the New Year.
So, while 2020 provided a difficult and challenging year for everyone, netball has continued to thrive around the world with so many of our Members coming together to ensure the longevity of our sport. We are extremely proud of and grateful to all our Regional and National Federations and the huge number of their members and volunteers who have supported the sport this year. From developing initiatives to working together and planning for the future, you have ensured that netball remains alive within communities and regions and encouraged women and girls to stay healthy, active, and passionate. Your hard work on preparing for a return to play has not gone unnoticed with the health and wellbeing of participants at the forefront of everything you do.
As we look to 2021 and the uncertainty that remains, we look forward not with hesitation or anxiety but with excitement and sheer determination. We must continue to work collaboratively, adapt, evolve, and remind ourselves of just how incredible the netball family is and what we can achieve when we come together. 2020 has taught us many things, especially the resilience of our sport and our Members. As your President, I am proud to lead you into what I am sure will be a better year for sport, your families, and the world. Thank you for everything you have done this year. Stay safe, and I look forward to seeing what 2021 holds for our great sport.
I wish you a very happy festive season and a successful year ahead.
With my very best wishes.
Liz Nicholl, CBE
International Netball Federation