NSA launches Netball Premier League
Netball SA (NSA) launched Africa's first semi-professional netball league on Tuesday, which will start on 10 May and end with the final in June.
The highly-anticipated premier league incorporates 10 teams from all nine provinces in South Africa and will be played over five weeks.
All matches will be staged in the Rembrandt Hall at the University of Pretoria and will be broadcast live on SuperSport on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the competition.
"This league will take netball to greater heights and give women an opportunity to participate in a professional league," Sport Minister Fikile Mbalula said at the launch in Johannesburg.
"Netball by far comes immediately after soccer in the rankings in terms of popularity.
"There is no doubt that such a league should have long been started on the African continent.
"In any school, in the townships there are two things celebrated, football and netball, and I've always been shocked as to why we don't have a professional league."
The idea of forming a national professional league, similar to the professional soccer league, was pioneered by Mbalula in 2012, as part of his programme to get more women involved in sport.
In the same year, he launched the Diamond Challenge, which sees South Africa, Malawi, Botswana and Tanzania competing in a round-robin tournament.
He, however, said the process of forming the premier league had been a long and tiring task.
"I started this process in 2012 when I first met with NSA and that was my first promise I made as a minister of sport that we'll have a netball premier league," he said.
"The first obstacle we came across was that nobody believed the story from corporate and, secondly, doomsayers said this thing will never happen and now it's happening. People came to the party."
Meanwhile, NSA president Mimi Mthethwa said South Africa was happy to be the first African country to have a premier league and believed the national team would benefit from the league's ongoing competitive action.
The league would motivate children to play netball for a purpose and to take it seriously as a career, Mthethwa said.
"This also gives women players a platform to get into the national team. Although we won't just use the premier league for selection, it will indeed be one of the avenues," he said.
"This also gives ladies the opportunity to be active and have the much-needed game time so that when they play for the national team, they come as stronger players who have had some action on the courts."