South African men’s netball captain, Shiko Mokaila reckons that the sooner a structure is set to address the growth of men’s netball around the world, the quicker netball will be added to the list of Olympic Games sport. Australia, which is the host country of the 2032 Brisbane Olympics, is working to have netball featured in the competition for the first time. Netball was first introduced to the Commonwealth Games in 1998 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Netball is played in over 80 countries around the world by millions of people.
Mokaila reckons the governing body, World Netball, needs to push for more international competitions in order to aid the growth of men’s netball on a global stage.
“I think the beginning point would be formulating a structure. I don’t think with male netball, in international netball, there is a structure right now that speaks to the development of males. I do believe a conversation should be had and representatives around the world sit together at a table so that the operation of males netball to be unified. It might be simple for us to have a voice with World Netball where we know there is someone who is addressing some of the issues because honestly speaking we are taking too long with this transformation,” says Mokaila.
“I know in our country we have the transformation charter that we are looking at. We’ve got a scorecard that we are checking every year for the EPG (Eminent Persons Group) for Netball South Africa. If World Netball did exactly the same, we would be able to see how many men play netball, and how many clubs are there so the conversation could start happening. Organisations obviously want a structure but once we have that going, it might make it simple for us to have one voice coming from World Netball filtering down so that all the countries would be able to align,” he adds.
Although the skipper admits that it will take a while before the whole world has more men and boys playing netball, he, however, hopes that the ball can get rolling soon.
“I think the biggest challenge is transformation when it comes to gender specifications with most of our sporting codes. The conversation needed to start yesterday, if everybody starts getting involved in ticking all the boxes, to make sure that the stereotypes are not there, there’s capacity building, there’s access to facilities, and other issues in relation to making sure that we are all at the same playing level. If we can do it now, we want to take it to when Australia hosts the Olympics. We might not get the benefits of playing (at the Olympics) but we are going to be able to pave the way for those that are coming after us,” he says.
Netball South Africa can be commended for the work they have put in the recent years. Men’s netball has seen an increase in competitions, the Twizza National Netball Club Championships, Spar Netball Championships and South Africa also hosted the Men’s Netball Championship last September and played against Uganda and Kenya. The men’s Proteas' recent participation in the Americas Netball Men’s Championship is also an indication that the federation wants to see the sport grow. They played against St. Vincent & Grenadines, Grenada, Antigua & Bermuda and Jamaica and they were the guest country in the competition.
However, unlike the Spar Proteas, it might take a bit of a while before the men’s national players are contracted and get paid for playing the sport.
Mokaila is satisfied with the steady growth of the sport that he has witnessed over the years.
“I think the landscape has changed broadly. Now the participation model speaks to different age groups while in the past you would find a 12-year-old playing with a 30-year-old who is seasoned and has been playing the game for long. But now there are Under-19s that are playing, we have Under-23s and seniors. That is our development model. It is quite exciting to see young men, especially at the school level playing. There has been growth even with the stigma that men don’t play netball or shouldn’t play netball. We have seen growth in that we have now experienced international exposure and there are more clubs coming through.
“We have seen more people starting to play because there’s more accessibility of facilities, all thanks to Netball South Africa and the opportunities that are presented. We now have club structures that are more professional and formal. They are playing in leagues which are affiliated with districts and in turn, the districts have teams of squads that represent them at the provincial level then nationals. That is where you get the national players selected. The competition base has all the components from club level up to national, depending on the type of play that you would like to affiliate with,” he says.