Former Proteas captain hopes World Cup leaves lasting legacy

netball20 February 2023 06:50| © SuperSport
By:Busisiwe Mokwena
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Zanele Mdodana reckons netball in South Africa has progressed in the last few years. There are more and more players are being scouted by overseas clubs for professional leagues due to the competitive nature and growth of the sport especially with the Spar Proteas being consistently in the top five in the world.

The former Proteas captain is pleased with the investments that the country is making in the sport in the last few years. Competitions at a lower level are getting attention with sponsors coming on board, such as the DSTV Schools Netball Challenge, Telkom Netball Championships even the Twizza Championships at the senior level for both men and women. Mdodana reckons the competition is getting better at the different levels.

“Schools netball is flourishing and with SuperSport coming on board with SuperSport Schools being able to broadcast or live streaming of all the school games. It has taken the competitiveness of schools netball to the next level because there is no school team now that you can’t find matches of and be able to analyse,” she says.

“At the university level, there’s Varsity (Netball) and USSA, those are the feeding levels for the national team. The Telkom Netball League is also quite good, especially since this year they are going to allow the Proteas to play for their different provincial teams which is going to strengthen the quality and the standard of the competition. It’s also going to give the Proteas some game time which is something they desperately need now since we are a couple of months away from the World Cup. Netball is doing well,” she adds.

The senior national team’s performance in Birmingham at the 2022 Commonwealth Games left a lot to be desired for many however the performance at the Quad Series has restored faith in a lot of lovers of the game, including Mdodana. She is now confident that the Norma Plummer led side will have a better showing at the World Cup.

“We saw our team doing very well. They surprised me, taking into consideration that they had just come back from a Commonwealth Games that didn’t go so well. They then had a new coach coming in, Norma Plummer, take the reins. They tested themselves against the top three teams in the world and just gage to see where they are, I thought that they put their best foot forward. It gave me hope that in a couple of months, I know they are going to be better than they were in January and also they can be World Cup hosts that are going to be competitive. It’s not going to be these international teams coming here and just running the show, they are capable of causing a couple of upsets,” she says.

The Stellenbosch University coach says she is impressed with how quickly the team has adjusted to the Australian mentor who was reappointed as the head coach in November 2022.

“I think the work that has gone in in the short space of time, just to keep the girls positive, to get them to buy into the changes because those were not easy changes. They were massive changes that they had to adapt to but you can see the level of respect they have for Norma. I think they go out to empty themselves on the court for her, more than anything else,” explains the commentator.

Hosting the first ever Netball World Cup on African soil should have every South African excited about what’s coming especially with over two million active players in the country. Although Netball South Africa launched #NetballFridays, the activation is not as loud and visible as when the country welcomed the world for the 2010 Fifa World Cup. However, the minimal hype around the tournament has Mdodana concerned.

“I still feel that it’s a bit quiet if you think about this time in 2010, it was crazy! It was buzzing maybe a bit closer to July things will start picking up but I mean this is the biggest women’s event in the world that we are going to be hosting as a nation. We would love to see the nation rally behind the Proteas. We would love to see the vibe in all the provinces and there is so much that can be done, to get everybody involved. But otherwise, I am looking forward to an interesting World Cup,” she says.

Mdodana stressed the importance of the World Cup having a lasting legacy for the sport way beyond 2022. The building and restoration of courts especially in rural and disadvantaged communities are one of the ways that can ensure that the sport continues to grow and most importantly, roping in more sponsorships which will work with NSA to professionalise the sport in the near future.

“It will be interesting to see what benefits our communities are going to reap from this World Cup. What will be left behind? What’s going to be the empowerment of our communities? Will there be the right facilities for our kids to be able to play? The right equipment, the right coaching staff to give back, and empower the kids with the right information. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done because at the end of the day, it’s not just about the Proteas, it’s about the grassroots and having that feeding system that runs right through the senior team,” she says.