Let me start by welcoming you all to our first in person Congress since 2019.
It has been four years since you elected me as your president in Liverpool at the Vitality Netball World Cup 2019, and I feel very privileged to be addressing you at this Congress as we eagerly await the start of the Netball World Cup 2023 here in Cape Town, South Africa in just two days’ time.
This Netball World Cup is incredibly special, as its the very first time that our pinnacle event has been held in Africa, and what a journey we have been on together since 2019.
Just six months after our meeting in Liverpool the whole world faced some unprecedented challenges due to the global pandemic, and whilst that kept us apart, and off the netball courts for far too long, in many ways it brought our netball family closer together as we adapted, learnt from the experience of others and began meeting online more often.
I am so proud of our netball family for the resilience, commitment and care you have shown to our sport and each other throughout this time. Our zoom meetings enabled regular communication albeit in a different form and our Board soon realised that we could very easily consult with Members on all the big decisions that affect our sport.
There is no doubt, for example, that you significantly shaped the development of our re-brand from the International Netball Federation to World Netball and the development of our 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, and three core strategies: to GROW, to PLAY and to INSPIRE.
All of which are underpinned by a commitment to remain a leader in Governance best practice, whilst ensuring the voice of the athlete is at the heart of our decision making.
Our strategic plan informs our priorities and is there to strengthen the international framework that drives the growth and development of our sport
Since 2019 we have also hosted two online Congresses, our usual two yearly one in 2021 and then our Special meeting of Congress in 2022 to progress Governance changes, so being together today is incredibly special.
We must use this time to reconnect, meet new colleagues, and celebrate our very special sport and those special individuals and teams who give of their time so freely to GROW, PLAY and INSPIRE.
Acting on our strategic plan, throughout 2021 and 2022 we have made advancements in all three areas: to GROW, to PLAY and to INSPIRE. We sit here today on our journey to GROW with 57 Full Members and 22 Associate.
Looking back at 2022, you have been PLAYing more international netball than ever before, with the return of our FAST5 Netball World Series, including male international participation for the first time ever in a World Netball event, and our Netball World Cup 2023 Qualifiers in each of the five regions.
The qualifiers allowed 42 countries, over 500 athletes, more than 45 umpires and 200 coaches, managers, and primary carers to be involved in the Road to Cape Town.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone involved in those events, but especially the event hosts Netball New Zealand, Netball Fiji, Netball South Africa, Netball Singapore, Netball Scotland, and Netball Jamaica.
Including the qualifiers, 233 international matches took place in the 10 months following the annual update of the WN World Rankings on 1st March 2022, far exceeding our previous record of 169 matches in a one-year rating period, and with the launch of our Over The Top (OTT) Platform, NetballPass, alongside Netball New Zealand, we were able to INSPIRE the next generation making many of these matches available to our global netball family free of charge online.
In terms of INSPIRE, with the launch of our World Netball Foundation at this Netball World Cup 2023 we aim to create new possibilities for individuals, communities and society to achieve through Netball, and in terms of GOVERN I am sincerely hoping that, with your support and vote of confidence, we will be welcoming two new Directors to our Board, including our first ever Athlete Director.
Our Board will also be welcoming two new Regional Directors from the Americas and Asia as we say thank you to Marva and Gaby who have added significant value and insight to World Netball.
Clare Briegal, the World Netball CEO, will go through each of our core strategies to GROW, to PLAY and to INSPIRE in more detail from the Board report today, and highlight even more of our achievements to date.
Looking ahead, we still have so much to look forward to with the Netball World Youth Cup 2025, taking place in Gibraltar. This will be the first Netball World Youth Cup since Botswana 2017, due to the cancellation of the 2022 event, planned for Fiji, because of the risk of covid-19 infection to participants and the local population.
Next month, some of the next generation of netballers will have the opportunity to play in the Trinbago 2023 Commonwealth Youth Games, which includes FAST5 Netball for the first time.
We also have FAST5 Netball World Series in Christchurch, New Zealand in November this year, and the Netball World Cup 2027 in Sydney.
On top of this, we will still be pursuing the possibility of netball being included as an additional sport in the Olympic Games Brisbane 2032 while ensuring that everything we do is aligned with our strategy and good for Netball and we will continue to evaluate this opportunity along with Netball Australia.
But right now, all our attention is focused on the Netball World Cup 2023 in Cape Town. The first ever Netball World Cup to be played in Africa.
In closing I just wanted to thank you to all our Members, those here today, or joining us online, for all your 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 sport.
We will continue to work with you to make sure that our sport is open to all, regardless of gender, race or age.
We will continue to work with you to increase global participation, reach, revenue and capacity.
We will continue to work with you to drive game development and worldwide delivery of a portfolio of thrilling world-class events.
And we will all continue to harness the power of netball to change lives.
Let’s GROW, let’s PLAY and let’s INSPIRE.