Generous Singapore promote Olympic dream
Singapore: Singapore`s netball team finished fifth in the Nations Cup tournament they hosted recently but their generosity in helping debutantes Tanzania with flights, accommodation and kit was of Olympic proportions.
Olympic status remains the Holy Grail for netball, a sport which struggles to banish the image that it is a school playground activity rather than an event worthy of the Olympics.
The amateur image has a good side, though, as Tanzania found out when they were invited as late replacements to the Nations Cup, a six-team invitational tournament, after the Cook Islands withdrew three weeks before the start.
Arriving a day before the event began, and bringing kit they had made themselves, the unranked Tanzanian team, many of whom had never been to Asia, came to play the hosts, Malaysia, Canada, Northern Ireland and Scotland.
Singapore helped out with costs and equipment but their generosity backfired when Tanzania beat their hosts 41-33 en route to finishing fourth behind winners Northern Ireland.
"Singapore contributed on air tickets and all the teams` accommodation was provided so we are very grateful to Singapore for their support," Joel Mwakitalu, Tanzanian Netball coordinator told reporters.
"Our kits were homemade, we tailored them ourselves, but we managed to buy kits here to make us look more international."
"Singapore netball has given us a number of balls, medical kits and Nations Cup T-shirts. When people see Singapore and Scotland on the T-shirts we are very sure that the number of girls interested in playing netball (in Tanzania) will grow."
Local organisers were not deterred by their finishing position as they strived to promote the sport and campaign for a place on the Olympic programme.
"The more countries that are playing (the more it) is in our interest," Singapore Netball executive director Cyrus Medora told reporters.
"We want to develop netball in Asia. In Taiwan we helped the set-up, they were all basketball players, same with Thailand."
"We sent a coach to Taipei to help train their coaches and umpires, then they come here for courses."
"To get into the Olympics we need to get China and others to play netball. It would make a big difference. China is a very big market but they are very focused on their Olympic sports."
Netball is played by 20 million people in 70 countries, according to figures from the International Federation of Netball Associations (IFNA), but is not yet global enough for the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
Persuading a large, sports-mad nation such as China or the United States to get more involved in netball would break the New Zealand-Australia stranglehold at the top of the sport, making it more acceptable to the IOC, netball officials say.
In the 12 world championships that have been played, only Trinidad and Tobago, who tied for first with the Australasian duo in 1979, have stopped the New Zealand and Australia domination.
Singapore`s interim coach Jill McIntosh, previously coach of her home nation Australia, said that despite the efforts of Singapore and other countries to improve participation in netball, inclusion in the Olympics was unlikely to come soon.
"We need to, as an international federation, get more countries playing," McIntosh told reporters.
"We need Korea and China and Japan to play and some more countries in Europe playing but if we can infiltrate into those countries and they start playing then we have a truly global game."
Despite the lack of world-wide interest, the sport has been recognised by the IOC since 1995 and is reviewed when the sports programme for each Games is determined seven years in advance.
So far it has been rejected, with the IOC choosing golf and rugby sevens in the most recent review for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
"Netball did not make it to the shortlist. Gender equity is of course an aspect that is looked at during the evaluation process and that forms part of the decision," an IOC official said.
While the women`s game continues to grow, the men`s version struggles, with interest strong in only India, Pakistan, Australia and New Zealand.
"I look at the Olympics, we need more female sports in there," McIntosh said. "It probably won`t be in my lifetime but if we don`t start (working) now then the next generation won`t be anywhere near it."
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