Tamsin Greenway’s detailed look at Vitality Netball Superleague’s potential routes forwards
Tamsin Greenway takes a detailed look at the Vitality Netball Superleague’s potential routes forward and shares more about the intricacies and complexities the sport faces when it comes to its decision making.
With the ANZ Premiership starting on June 19 and other sporting leagues also re-commencing, it gives us a chance in England to observe their return to play.
Clearly we’ve been affected far greater by COVID-19 in England than in New Zealand and Australia, but with netball’s return on the horizon there, it does create potentially promising signs for us in the long run. Learnings can be, and should be, taken from them into the decision-making processes here.
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Elite domestic netball in England remains postponed at least until May 31 and I know that the Vitality Netball Superleague and England Netball have been meeting [virtually] to discuss the route forward beyond that.
As you’d expect, these meetings have been kept behind closed doors but what is understood by all of us working within the world of elite netball, is what a complex and difficult situation returning to court is.
This is something that we discussed with England’s head coach Jess Thirlby on The Netball Show on Sky Sports News last week and news of its return will be something all netball fans and players are waiting for.
As we said on the show, many of the Superleague clubs operate very differently to each other – from a financial and structural point of view. Also, unlike many other elite sports being discussed right now, most Superleague teams do not solely own their own venues which adds another layer to proceedings.
Teams’ home venues may be exhibition centres, situated on university campus or part of a wider arena, and that means they’re at the hands of broader discussions.
In New Zealand, all of the ANZ Premiership teams will be playing their league matches at a central venue – the Auckland Netball Centre. I think there’s certainly an opportunity to look at something like that here in England and think about how that could operate.
The ANZ Premiership had played just one round before their season was postponed and they have decided to return with a full 10-weeks’ worth of netball. But, I think that the beauty of netball is that if we did want to try and fit in a shorter competition, it could also be done.
A World Cup or a Commonwealth Games operates over a period of around 10 days so there could be scope to play something that’s shorter and more condensed (if needed) within a central venue.
Netball could be a little bit more creative and look to opportunities like that if needed, and if that’s believed to be the most feasible course of action.
Do we need to see a season-long league in England where everybody plays each other twice with semi-finals and Grand Finals? In an ideal world we’d love to, but the reality of that now is becoming more challenging and any form of netball competition this season will be better than none.
From an international point of view, you already start to see a clash. Head coaches, including myself with Scotland, are going to want to have their players together at some point. England, as an example, have a Test series in the diary in November. The Quad Series was due to be played in September, Fast5 is normally positioned in October… there are just so many different pieces of the puzzle to consider.
Then there are the fans. Of course we would all love to have crowds at every event which returns and have everything back to ‘normal’, but again we’ve got to be realistic. If we do want to get some elite netball in this year then large crowds aren’t likely to be an option.
The positive side to this is that there’s a chance for even more people to tune into television coverage and if netball is one of the only sports back, there’s the chance to broaden the audience too – something we’re always striving to do. I’d want to see this a real focus.
So, as we head towards the summer months, the likelihood of fitting in a full season becomes less and less. The later that we start a competition here, the greater the number of questions it brings and the greater the knock-on effect we will see.
However, if we can do something and it’s safe to do so, then a short competition that bridges the gap between now and the 2021 Superleague season, would be my preference, but even for this to happen there are some major headaches involved in putting this on.
Let’s look at the players. Those who are on one-year contracts are only contracted until July, what do teams do about that? Where do teams find the finances if they need to create new, longer contracts? Would you then re-name squads for this ‘new’ competition or stick with the ‘old’ squads?
There are some international players who have returned home and some players who have stayed here with their families being miles away. For those returning, can they? For those being away from loved ones, how long should they be asked to stay for?
What about the likes of Rachel Dunn who works for the NHS and is in a hospital every day or Georgia Lees who is on the frontline? What happens about their participation, and netball for them? Do you bring them back in? There are just so many pieces to this puzzle and its the safety of the players, and all involved, that will need to be considered first.
Then there’s the travel, how do you get Sirens down to play in a centralised venue (as an example), when they’re based in Scotland and usually fly?
The optimist in me, and the netball fan, wants to see something and see a domestic competition, but the hard part is the number of moving parts and whether it does become worthwhile for the sport?
That’s before you consider training venues that may or may not be opened, the financial implications of testing and whether that can happen? Also, having a pre-season window that allows all athletes access to the facilities and support staff they need to prepare for a competition.
The easier option is to draw a line under the 2020 competition; and let’s hope that the internationals go ahead later in the year, then you look ahead to the next Superleague season in terms of signing players, having pre-season games towards Christmas and going again in 2021.
If that is the route the sport takes, I don’t think that netball would lose its fanbase or that it would lose its momentum.
When sport does come back, people are going to watch it. Sport is something that people have really, really missed. For any kind of sports fan there’s nothing better than watching live sport and the appetite for it will be great.
Overall, looking at the options, it’s a really, really difficult one and I certainly don’t believe there is a clear answer.
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