Dana Johannsen: Come on netball - toughen up

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This was a real opportunity to openly discuss the issue, rather than one side complaining that the others were "bullies" and the others hitting back with "stop your whingeing". Photo / Getty Images
This was a real opportunity to openly discuss the issue, rather than one side complaining that the others were "bullies" and the others hitting back with "stop your whingeing". Photo / Getty Images

Dear Netball,

Gee, haven't you come a long way in five years?

A new semi-professional league, paid broadcast deals, live netball on the telly every week, players actually getting paid a decent wage - to steal a phrase from one of your much-loved stars, "I'm like, holy moly".

The increased profile you now enjoy really is a credit to your administrators who had the vision to allow the game to progress to this level.

There's just one major problem I have with you, nettie (can I call you nettie? I feel like we've known each other a long time now). It's just well - how do I put this delicately? - you're too gosh darn sensitive.

Now that netball enjoys a more elevated profile in the sporting landscape, it means there is going to be a lot more discussion around the game.

Yes, even those people who have never picked up a netball in their life and call the net a "hoop" (imbeciles) now take an interest in what's going on and, as fans and sports consumers, are one of your stakeholders.

The form of players, coaching strategies, team selections, and administrative decisions are now under much more scrutiny from the public, and yes, us annoying media types as well.

I know it's not always a comfortable feeling when you find yourself in the media glare, but you need to learn to embrace open debate.

Take last week, for example, with all the kerfuffle over the increasing physicality in netball. Things got a bit heated there, didn't they?

Yes, Donna Wilkins and Irene van Dyk (Dons and Eyes to you) may not have gone about it the way you would like, but they raised an issue that was worthy of discussion and it was only natural the media would latch on to these comments. What we were trying to do was steer the debate around whether or not the physicality in the game has got out of hand.

It didn't say much about the maturity of your sport that the debate quickly descended into a rather vicious slanging match, which ended with Norma Plummer packing up her toys and saying "well we don't want to play you guys anyway".

This was a real opportunity to openly discuss the issue, rather than one side complaining that the others were "bullies" and the others hitting back with "stop your whingeing".

I appreciate a lot of this is new to you, nettie. But if you want to play with the big boys and be considered a "power sport", you need to learn to better encourage and embrace open debate.

Controversy is not necessarily a bad thing, you see. For if you want to be a true premier sport, and enjoy the commercial benefits that come from that, then you need to generate media interest, right?

While not all coverage is going to be positive, consider it a real feather in your cap that your sport has reached the point where the media consider the issues worth debating.

Thanks for hearing me out, nettie - I really hope you don't get your regulation knickers in a knot about this as well.

Yours sincerely,

Dana Johannsen

PS What were you thinking bringing in those thundersticks all those years ago, I mean really!

- NZ Herald

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