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April 2017
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Netball is a team sport that is fast and involves lots of changes of play. It is similar to basketball but some rules and tactical aspects make it particularly suitable for females, however, over time, it has become a popular male sport too.

The history of netball

Netball originates from basketball but it owes its invention to the American physical education teacher Clara Gregory Bear who, in 1892, reinterpreted and changed many aspects of basketball, which was invented the year before by her colleague James Naismith for his students at the School for Christian Workers, in order to make it more ‘female’. Today, netball is mainly played in the British Commonwealth, and the country that boasts the most players of this female team sport is Australia, followed by New Zealand, but it is also very popular in Jamaica, Barbados, South Africa, Sri Lanka and the United Kingdom. The first netball match was played in 1895 at Madame Ostenburg's College, and the first national netball organisation was founded in New Zealand in 1924. It was only in 1960 though that an international body was set up, the INFA (International Federation of Netball Associations) which unites the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the West Indies. Today, the INFA is based in Manchester and involves approximately 20 million athletes from over 80 countries; it consists of 74 national squads from 5 federations: Africa Netball, the American Federation of Netball Associations, Netball Asia, the Federation of European Netball Associations and the Oceania Netball Federation.
The first international netball competition was played in Melbourne in August 1938 and it saw Australia compete against New Zealand, with Australia claiming the victory. The World Netball Championships are played every four years, the first time being held in 1963, and the most recent championships were held in 2011 in Singapore and, once again, Australia dominated and won for the tenth time out of 13 played tournaments. In 1995 netball became an Olympic sport and in 1998 it was added to the new sports category at the Commonwealth Games.
One of the biggest, most prestigious events is the ‘World Series’ which sees the 6 best national teams play each other. It is organised by the INFA every year, which pays for all expenses and team management. The first edition was held in 2009.

The game
The aim of netball is to shoot the ball in the net, which is 3.05m above ground on top of a pole, with no board. This makes attacking actions more complex and makes shooting more difficult than in basketball. The rules cover and combine elements of various games, including basketball, the division of the court into zones like rugby and the Dutch korfball because of the lack of physical contact. A team is made up of 7 players and is played in four quarters of 15 minutes. The positions are: goalkeeper, goal defence, wing defence, centre, wing attack, goal attack and goal shooter.

A netball court is 30.5m long and 15.25 wide. It is divided into 3 areas which, depending on their position, the players have to patrol and control. There are two players in defence, two in attack and three centre court players. Each player belongs to one of the three areas and everyone wears a bib to show the umpire which position they play. Those who play in the centre court (centre position) can do slightly more: they can go into all three areas, but they cannot shoot, that is, they cannot go into the attacking D area. When a player catches the ball, she must stay on the spot and pass the ball again within three seconds. Each player has a ‘personal area’ around them with a diameter of 90cm, thus physical contact or entering into this circle is forbidden, and, if it happens, the offending team is punished with a penalty pass awarded to the other team.

The ball is usually made of leather or rubber, has a diameter of 22cm and weighs 40g. It moves through the court via a thick network of quick and accurate passes that are directed towards scoring a goal in net. Once a player catches the ball, the first foot to touch the floor must remain still until she passes the ball on. Players cannot take the ball out of a player’s hands, and the ball can only be hit or bounced once to gain control of it. It is against the rules for a player to throw the ball and then catch/bounce it again herself. The opposition must have the possibility to steal the ball, therefore there must be enough space between the player with the ball and the player she is passing to for the opposition to intercept.

Over the years the rules have changed to make the game more fun to watch. Indoor netball, for example, is played in sports centres or gyms and there are perimeter walls running around the outside of court, very close to the side lines, to make breaks in play as short as possible.


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