As we reach the end of another extraordinary year it’s a perfect time to pause and reflect on what we have experienced and achieved individually and collectively as a netball family.
Once again, we have all been presented with significant challenges due to the ongoing constraints of the global pandemic. Social interaction in communities and throughout Netball has been constrained through the year and some of you might sadly have lost family members, friends or colleagues. Let’s all remember those members of our netball family who passed away in 2021.
We should also acknowledge the disappointment for event hosts, athletes and other participants who missed out on championships, domestic leagues and test series that were cancelled in 2021 including our own World Netball Youth Cup which was due to take place in Suva, Fiji.
Over the year, some National Federations have managed to forge a way through the immense challenges to host some national and international fixtures. Congratulations and thanks to those individuals and teams that managed the events so responsibly, showing, resilience, commitment and care for all involved. Those able to attend or watch remotely will have done so with a feeling of great joy.
Despite the extraordinary times there is much to celebrate. With every challenge we have faced this year an opportunity has arisen. Our focus at a world level has been able to turn to consultation with our Members on changes to our brand, our strategy and our values to strengthen the international framework that helps drive the growth and development of our sport.
As a public-facing show of our positive and aspirational intentions for netball at a global level, in June, the International Netball Federation (INF) rebranded to World Netball. We developed a new forward-thinking strategic plan with a clear Vision of a sport that is open to all; a Mission to expand our worldwide reach and impact, delivered through three core Strategies to GROW, PLAY and INSPIRE. All this underpinned by a commitment to remaining a leader in GOVERNANCE best practice while ensuring the voice of the athlete is at the heart of our decision making. We also welcomed eight new World Netball Ambassadors, representing our values, and our five regions as part of the #YourNetballWorld campaign. We were delighted that our innovative campaign was shortlisted for this year’s Sports Business Awards.
Acting on our new strategic plan and building on our many online experiences from 2020 that brought our netball family closer together, in June 2021 we hosted our first virtual Voice of the Athlete Working Group made up of ten athletes from all five of our regions. This development demonstrates World Netball’s commitment to bringing athletes to the heart of our decision making.
In July we held our first virtual Congress attended by 52 Member countries. At Congress we elected Shirley Hooper as our Vice President and said goodbye to Sue Taylor AM who had reached her maximum term on the Board. I thank Sue sincerely for the huge contribution she has made to the development of our sport over many decades but particularly as World Netball Board Member for 16 years.
Early in 2021 we appointed a Nominations Committee that has been busy during the past few months on a search for an Independent Director with Commercial expertise to join our Board. I was delighted with the quality of the applications we received. It was a strong indication of the opportunity we have to draw in further expertise to drive our sport forward at a time when can see a growing risk of losing young netballers to other major sports that are investing heavily in the women’s game. Members have been invited to attend a Special Meeting of Congress in January 2022 to meet the proposed candidate.
Our membership has continued to develop in 2021. We welcomed the Philippines Netball Federation as a Full Member and we anticipate further growth with new members joining from the Americas region in the next few months. We have appointed a Global Development team to work with us to create tools to support Member growth and to work with our regional federations to create growth strategies that align with World Netball’s ambitions for netball. If we can align our respective strategies and resources it will add significant momentum to the strategic development of our whole sport.
Following the review of the World Class Officiating Programme and based on the recommendations therein we have appointed a number of new operational groups. Huge thanks to all the individuals who have been appointed to our technical panels, committees and working groups as part of our growing global volunteer workforce.
Our ‘Play’ strategy sets out our aim to develop and deliver an International Events Strategy that showcases the best of our sport to more people more often and in August we announced our intention to pursue inclusion in the Olympics Games Brisbane 2032. We remain committed to working with Australia Netball on this to ensure netball has a clear and credible proposition within the context of a more general position on multi-sports games. There is no doubt that securing inclusion is a massive challenge. With the IOC’s cap on athlete numbers and their commitment to gender equality we need to be creative and be clear about our added-value. This will also be important in the context of hosts for future Commonwealth Games from 2026 having more discretion on sports to be included.
Our own World Class Events continue to be a top priority. The next big one being the Netball World Cup to be held in Cape Town in 2023. In April we announced Netball Australia and the city of Sydney as hosts of the Netball World Cup 2027 and in August it was confirmed that Gibraltar will be hosting the next, long-awaited, Netball Youth World Cup in 2025, giving the netball family an exciting roadmap of events for the next quadrennial.
As mentioned earlier, in 2021, it has been brilliant to see the World Netball events calendar pick up again throughout this year, with test series beginning to take place around the globe, including the Constellation Cup in New Zealand in March and more recently the Europe Netball Open Challenge in Gibraltar, Battle of the Saints in St Maarten, test series’ in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland and The Africa Netball Cup and the Pent Series in Namibia.
Whilst we recognise that the global pandemic still presents a high risk we look forward with hope that 2022 will be a better year for our netball family as we prepare for the Commonwealth Games Birmingham 2022, the five Netball World Cup 2023 Regional Qualifiers and the Netball World Cup to be held in Cape Town in 2023.
We will begin 2022 with excitement as in February we announce the remaining six qualifying teams for Birmingham 2022 and welcome back many domestic netball leagues around the world.
Our ‘Inspire’ strategy is beginning to move into its implementation phase. Following the appointment of a Project manager we are now recruiting a Chair and trustee to lead the establishment of the World Netball Foundation. Please do encourage good candidates to apply.
Finally, I am proud of the progress we continue to make despite the challenges and I look forward to leading you into what is set to be an exciting year for our sport as we continue to grow, to play and to inspire.
Thank you to my World Netball Board Members and staff team for your support and thank you to all our Members and your teams for your massive commitment of time and energy that you continue to give so selflessly to provide amazing opportunities for communities around the world to engage in and develop through our great sport.
Let’s look forward to 2022 with optimism.
While acknowledging that Christmas has a different meaning for different people around the world, I wish you all a very happy festive season and a successful year ahead.
With my very best wishes.
Liz Nicholl, CBE
World Netball President