Why is netball getting so rough?

By Dana Johannsen

Irene van Dyk has drawn attention to rough-house defence. Photo / Getty Images
Irene van Dyk has drawn attention to rough-house defence. Photo / Getty Images

There is growing concern the level of physicality in netball's transtasman league is getting out of hand after claims of rough-house tactics marred another round of the competition.

Magic shooter Irene van Dyk sparked controversy at the weekend after speaking out against the aggressive approach of the West Coast Fever defenders in her side's round three loss in Perth.

Her criticisms follow former Silver Ferns shooter Donna Wilkins' angry outburst after copping an elbow in the back from Firebirds defender Laura Geitz last week and reignited simmering tensions between the New Zealand and Australian sides.

Van Dyk's criticisms may yet land her in hot water with ANZ Championship officials, but her franchise coach Noeline Taurua said she fully endorsed the shooter's comments.

"I know it's not really the done thing [to publicly criticise the opposition], but I fully support everything that Irene said. She got hammered in there to be honest, it was continuous," said Taurua.

"She's very bruised today and that just shows the physicality that she was handed."

While some would suggest the level of physicality in the league hasn't increased, Taurua disagrees.

She said after six seasons in the league her side are well-versed in the different defensive approach of the Australian teams, who are known for their tight one-on-one marking, but what they experienced in Perth was a different level of physicality.

"There were a lot of things I would say were not in the spirit of the game and bordered on dangerous play - that's the worrying thing," she said.

Silver Ferns coach Waimarama Taumaunu said there was no doubt the physicality in the sport had ramped up several notches since the advent of professionalism.

"The game has become more physical, we play more advantage, athletes train harder - they're bigger, they're faster and when they do hit people it's harder, there's no doubt about that," said Taumaunu.

Several top coaches believe it has reached a point where the sport's leaders need to sit down and have a discussion about the direction netball is headed.

In the wake of Geitz's hit on Wilkins, Pulse coach Robyn Broughton said incidents such as those are a black eye for the sport and set a poor example for young players.

Another top-level coach, who did not want to be named, believes the Australian "smash and grab" style of defence needs to be reined in by the umpires.

Taurua believes it is time the sport's governing body provided clarification on what level of contact will and won't be tolerated.

"There needs to be some serious discussions because what the rule- book says and what we currently see out on court is poles apart," the former Silver Ferns shooter said.

"Every year it has become more physical and I think it's getting to the point where it is taking away from the skill factor and that's something we don't want to happen."

ANZ Championship general manager Andy Crook said the league was reviewing how they could ensure standardised interpretations of rules.

Federation bizarrely locks up rulebook

While it is often said netball is a non-contact sport, this is not specifically stated in the rules.

The rules stipulate no player may contact an opponent - whether accidentally or deliberately - in a way that interferes with the play of that opponent. This includes pushing, tripping, leaning and holding on to an opponent, as well as interfering with a player's landing space.

If you want to know more details, it'll cost you $20 to find out.

Bizarrely, the International Netball Federation has copyrighted the rules of the game, charging a fee for anyone wishing to view the official rulebook.

Most sports make their rules freely available for players, coaches and administrators to view, but you will not find netball's rules published anywhere online.

The INF's stance is hardly a progressive approach from an organisation that is looking to boost the profile of netball and develop the global game, and has prompted an online petition for INF to free netball's rules from copyright.

Australia's Adam Suess, who started the petition at change.org, is demanding the international body make the rules free and open for all.

"It saddens me to see that the rules of netball are not available free to everyone to learn and enjoy," said Suess.

"For people wanting to learn the INF rules of netball, particularly children and those from developing countries, the rules have to be purchased online", sometimes at a high cost in local currency.

- NZ Herald

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