The Netball World Cup tournament scores plenty of points – but also drops the ball

The Netball World Cup tournament scores plenty of points – but also drops the ball
Proteas captain Bongiwe Msomi and Gina Crampton of New Zealand during the Netball World Cup 2023 Pool G match between South Africa and New Zealand at Cape Town International Convention Centre. (Photo: Shaun Roy / Gallo Images / Netball World Cup 2023)

Held in SA for the first time, the showcase event has been a noisy success on the court, but the thrilling action has been slightly marred by a couple of off-court issues.

The first Netball World Cup hosted in Africa concluded on Sunday at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC). The sporting action has been exhilarating. For the past 60 years, New Zealand and Australia have dominated the World Cup, winning every one of the last 15 titles. Trinidad and Tobago tied for first place with the two trans-Tasman teams in 1979. In that year there were no finals, with the top 10 teams playing off in a round robin instead.

But the gap between the two dominant island nations and the rest of the world has steadily closed.

Before this tournament, England had never beaten the Australian Diamonds in a World Cup. On 3 August, England edged the Aussies 56-55.

In 37 matches played between South Africa and New Zealand, New Zealand have beaten the Proteas on 36 occasions. South Africa’s solitary win against them came all the way back in 1995. On 2 August, South Africa captured an improbable and incredible 48-48 draw against the reigning champions.

Protea players strategise during their Netball World Cup 2023 Pool G against New Zealand in Cape Town, South Africa, on 2 August 2023. (Photo: Shaun Roy / Gallo Images / Netball World Cup 2023)

Upsets and underdog stories have made the tournament a wonderful advert for the global game. The vocal support in the 5,000-seat makeshift arena at the CTICC has played a massive role in the results. Though the aforementioned countries have loyal travelling support, the home nation’s support has been expectedly vociferous – being compared to an eighth player on the court.

“The crowd is awesome; it’s pretty loud, as we expected it to be. It’s an awesome crowd to play against; there’s a lot of energy,” New Zealand wing defence and goal defence Karin Burger told Daily Maverick.

Burger was born in Cape Town but left as a teenager to further her netball career in New Zealand.

“There’s a lot of work to do to determine how we’re going to combat that sound barrier and not being able to have those connections in voice. It has to be in touch and in eye contact,” she added, after her side had struggled to communicate with one another on the court over the sound of the rapturous support.

Lots of unsold tickets

Though the support has been loud, the arena at the CTICC has not always been full. There are many factors that have played a role in the half-empty stadiums, not least the exorbitant price of the tickets. The cheapest tickets for the tournament were R500. The preliminary, stage one tickets were close to sold out, and the arena nearly overflowed during South Africa’s three group-stage matches.

Tickets for the final were sold out, and for the two semifinals almost so.

But, for the weekday matches during stage two preliminaries, ticket sales dipped to below 60%.

The Local Organising Committee and World Netball decided to provide local schools and fans with 1,000 tickets a day to increase crowd support for those matches.

Netball World Cup tournament director Priscilla Masisi blamed low ticket sales during the stage two preliminaries to the complicated format of the tournament.

“I think what also played a role was that people were unsure and most of the South Africans are not familiar with the system,” she said. “So some have also been asking, ‘Are other teams leaving or staying as we are going to the next phase?’ But, in terms of netball, all the teams stay in place until the last day.

“But our ticket sales are down.

“What we have done, instead of reducing the tickets because we feel it will be very unfair if somebody [who] bought a ticket at R500 and now we’re going to sell it at R100.

“So instead of doing that, for those communities, the tickets … are being [given away] – because we’ve got the figures now of the sessions that have sold and which ones are not doing well.

“We are giving those tickets to our partners and sponsors so that they can give them to the other communities so that they can be able to come to the venues. So, we are giving some of those tickets out.”

Transformation targets

Questions were raised about the demographics of the South African squad and whether it is representative of the “rainbow nation” during a media briefing this week.

Skipper Bongiwe Msomi, Khanyisa Chawane and Phumza Maweni are the only black members of the original 12-member squad, while Owethu Ngubane was added to the squad after the injury of Lenize Potgieter in South Africa’s 67-49 defeat to Jamaica.

“I understand what South Africans are saying, but if you look at the total number of the players that are here with the team, I am happy,” said Nocawe Mafu, South Africa’s Deputy Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture.

“But if you look at numbers at a particular time on court, there could be some concern. This is a conversation that must be ongoing in the country, it is a conversation that all of us must be concerned about.

“I am not saying you shouldn’t be asking these questions. It is an important conversation so we don’t drop the ball around issues of transformation.

Netball World Cup success in South Africa

Phoenix Karaka of New Zealand and Nichole Taljaard of South Africa in action in Cape Town, South Africa. South Africa’s hosting of the tournament was seen as a way of raising the sport’s profile in Africa. (Photo: Shaun Roy / Gallo Images / Netball World Cup 2023)

“You know the department is very clear on the issues of transformation in sport. You also know that it is a process and not an event.”

Meanwhile, the chairperson of the Local Organising Committee, Patience Shikwambana, has said that hosting the Netball World Cup is a building block in getting more young players involved in the sport.

“When we decided to bid to host this event, the first time it has been held on African soil, we did so with the intention of raising the profile of netball through Africa and also the role of women in sport,” Shikwambana said.

“Once the tournament is over and life returns to normal, we will be doing exhaustive debriefs in terms of addressing the positive and the negative issues that have surrounded the competition.” DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.



Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Jill Gribble says:

    I have been captivated, by our SA team in particular, watching their matches on SABC2. I am not a netball fan, but accidentally found myself watching their first match, and have been hooked ever since. Our women are energetic, enthusiastic, balletic, and an all-round delight to watch. Thank you, Team SA.

  • Elizabeth Pearson says:

    The biggest problem as I see it for most sporting events in this country is the price of the tickets. We are supposed to be encouraging people to attend these events – netball, cricket, rugby etc – but at R500 a pop, only the wealthy can afford to take their families to these events. I certainly cannot afford to go to my annual treat anymore – the Rugby Sevens – not at the prices they charge.

  • André Pelser says:

    The World Cup organisers and officials take too big a cut – broadcasting rights and revenue should subside tickets prices, which should be affordable for the ordinary fan. However, the weak rand was a major factor. The committee that awarded the ticket sales to a smaller company with no track record of handling events of this magnitude should donate a substantial part of their salaries to netball development in townships.

  • Andrew Johnson says:

    I agree with these first two comments posted, as a died in the wool rugby and cricket (not forgetting MUFC), i was absorbed by this competition.
    It is time the politicians butt out of sports, they only have one agenda.

  • andrew farrer says:

    When you look at the tournament umpires – Aus 4, NZ 4, UK 4, SA 2 – is it any wonder Aus, Nz & UK allways feature. Jamaica was shafted by the officials from NZ siding with Aus on 50/50 calls.

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