Netball moves towards professionalism
Netball took a step towards professionalising the most popular women's sport in South Africa with the launching of the Netball Grand Series (NGS) at the weekend.
NGS, conceived and developed by former Spar Proteas national captain Dr Elsje Jordaan is a local version of the British Netball Super league and the Australia/New Zealand ANZ competition, which both attract immense interest and television coverage.
Eight teams, representing various regions in South Africa, will compete against each other over a period of 17 weeks.
There will be a total of 59 matches. The eight teams are the Black Diamonds (Gauteng Central and West); Starlight Jets (Gauteng Ekurheleni, Mpumalanga and Gauteng Vaal); Galaxy Blues (Gauteng North and Limpopo); Red Kestrels (North West); Lightning Roses (Free State and Griqualand West); Kingdom Queens (KwaZulu-Natal and Ethekweni); Ibhayi Gales (Nelson Mandela Bay and the Western Cape); Western Storms (Western Province and Boland).
"The league is in line with the format and time span of international tournaments in most sports," said Jordaan.
"The international standard for elite athletes is to spend 25 per cent of their time in training, and 75 per cent of their time in competition. In South Africa, we have had almost exactly the opposite, with players spending far more time in training than in competition.
"The NGS will test the endurance of players and coaches and provide the top players with the necessary game time to compete at the highest level."
Jordaan said members of the national team, who are currently in training for the world championships in Singapore in July, would participate in the NGS.
"When they are required for national duties, younger players will have the opportunity to step in and showcase their talent," she said.
A schools competition, involving 48 schools -- eight from each region -- will run concurrently with the NGS, with schools matches played as curtain-raisers to the NGS matches.
"These will be under-18 teams, which will feed into the next under-21 squad for the under-21 World Cup in 2014," said Jordaan.
"We will also be running talent-identification competitions to identify players for the future."
The NGS replaces the National Netball League (NNL).
"Last year, the NNL was played over two weeks," said Jordaan. "It just didn't provide enough match time."
Jordaan said it was hoped that by 2013, as the competition gained momentum and attracted sponsors, a franchise system would be developed, with the opportunity for players to become professionals.
NGS has been endorsed by Netball South Africa (NSA) and also has the support of the Department of Sport and Recreation.
"This competition is very important for the development of our sport," said NSA President Mimi Mthethwa. "We are very excited about it."