Dana Johannsen

Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald’s chief sports reporter

Netball: Contact rules baffle the best netballers

Only three players in survey have reasonable grasp of physicality guidelines - the others were stumped

Contact... or is it? You be the judge. Photo / Christine Cornege
Contact... or is it? You be the judge. Photo / Christine Cornege

The fierce public debate that erupted last week over the increasing physicality in netball highlighted that many fans have a different understanding of the rules to that of the umpires.

But what of the players' understanding of the rules?

As representatives from Netball New Zealand and Netball Australia meet this week to discuss how the transtasman league can move towards more standardised rule interpretations, the Herald surveyed transtasman league players to test their knowledge around the laws of the game.

Central to discussion around criticism that netball is getting too rough is how the contact rule is policed by umpires, with some claiming what is seen on court is very different to what is in the rulebook.

So we decided to ask the players what their understanding of the contact rule is.

As part of the survey, the Herald spoke to 14 players across seven franchises* and asked two standard questions:

• What is the contact rule?

• Are you clear in your mind about what you can and can't do in terms of contact?

Just three players - Melbourne Vixens shooter Sharelle McMahon, veteran defender Rachel Rasmussen of the Steel and Northern Mystics defender Jessica Moulds - got close to properly articulating what the contact rule is.

"For me the contact rule is contact with another player that interferes with their play. No, that's not right is it? I definitely know there's a component that says interferes with play, because that's where the interpretation comes into it," said McMahon.

Most players were initially stumped when asked about the contact rule and had difficulty explaining how it worked in practice.

"Oh I haven't read a rulebook in years - actually I don't think I've even read the rulebook," Swifts midcourter Kim Green said with a laugh.

Interestingly, both Magic captain Laura Langman and Thunderbirds defender Rebecca Bulley believed that according to the letter of the law, players weren't allowed to come into contact whatsoever, although acknowledged what happens out on court is very different.

"You can't touch anyone," Langman said with a laugh, "well, that's basically what the rules say."

While the players found it difficult to explain the rule, the general consensus was that contesting of the ball is allowed, but as soon as a player negatively impacts their opponent, it becomes an unfair contest and should result in a penalty.

Thunderbirds shooter Erin Bell said players will know themselves when they have contacted another player. "You know what the rules are, you've been brought up playing them, even though they're kind of hard to describe."

For the record, nowhere in the INF rulebook does it state that netball is a non-contact sport. However, a player can be penalised if they are deemed to have come into contact with an opponent in such a way that it impedes the play of that opponent. This includes pushing, tripping, holding or leaning on an opponent, and moving into a path of an opponent that is committed to a particular landing.

The responses of the players indicate there is a lack of clarity around the interpretation of the rules.

Only four players said they were absolutely clear in their mind as to what is and isn't allowable under the contact rules, with others pointing to the inconsistent umpiring interpre-tations between the two countries as causing some confusion. "I would say generally yes, I know what I can and can't get away with, but sometimes it changes once you're actually out on the court and have got a proper feel for how the umpires will call things. I'm conscious to adjust how I play depending on which country I'm playing in," said Vixens captain Bianca Chatfield.

* The West Coast Fever and Central Pulse refused to take part in the survey, while Queensland Firebirds players were not available this week as they are on leave during their bye round.

What the players say

Jodi Brown
Southern Steel

"God you've got me there ... Wai is going to tell me off for not knowing the rules. I'll say when another player disrupts the player with the ball."

Rachel Rasmussen
Southern Steel

"To me, contact is when any body contact is made to impede the opposite player."

Erin Bell
Adelaide Thunderbirds

"I see contact as when it is an unfair contest between a ball. It's fine when two players are going for the ball as hard as each other, that's not really a contact, but if there is an uneven balance and one person is going for the line of the person rather than the line of the ball, or coming in late, or blatantly hitting someone to slow down play."

Rebecca Bulley
Adelaide Thunderbirds

"Oh gosh, I actually don't know ... I would say that it would be any form of contact with an opposing player."

Laura Langman
Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic

"You can't touch anyone [laughs]. Well, that's basically what the rules say."

Casey Kopua
Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic

"Oh god, I don't even know the official wording - how bad is that? I think it is if you interfere with a player's space or physically prevent them from getting them to the ball."

Bianca Chatfield
Melbourne Vixens

"A player can't deliberately get in the way of another player in such a way it impedes their play, so I guess deliberately is the key word."

Sharelle McMahon
Melbourne Vixens

"For me the contact rule is contact with another player that interferes with play ... I think. I definitely know there's a component that says interferes with play, because that's where the interpretation comes into it."

Kim Green
NSW Swifts

"In my interpretation - I don't know if that's in the rulebook - I think an evenly fought contest is okay, but as soon as it is uneven then that is contact."

Carla Dziwoki
NSW Swifts

"It's hard to articulate it properly. I think the contact rule is where a player infringes another player to get to the ball, so any hands grabbing on and pushing that is not within the contest."

Cathrine Latu
Northern Mystics

"I think - and I don't know the technical wording - it's when you're pushed off your mark, or an opponent is impeding you from your play."

Jess Moulds
Northern Mystics

"You cannot negatively impact on a player's play, or deliberately impede a player's play."

Zoe Walker
Mainland Tactix

"I think it's if a player is interfering with another player's ability to pass the ball or shoot the ball. If two players are going for the ball I think that is fair contesting, but if someone is being pushed off their line then that is contact."

Anna Thompson
Mainland Tactix

"When a player makes contact with the body. ... if a player pushes another player off their line, or slaps down on the hand or ball afterwards, that's a contact."

Rule 17: Contact

The International Netball Federation's official rulebook states:

17.1 Personal Contact and Contact with the Ball

17.1.1 No player may come into contact with an opponent in such a way that it impedes the play of that opponent.

17.1.2 In an effort to attack or defend or to play the ball a player shall not:-

(i) move into the path of an opponent who is committed to a particular landing position;

(ii) push, trip, hold or lean on an opponent or use other forms of physical contact;

(iii) place a hand or hands on a ball held by an opponent, except that, if a player places a hand or hands on a ball after it has been caught by an opposing player, the Umpire may use the Advantage Rule to allow the player in possession of the ball to continue play;

(iv) knock or remove the ball from the possession of an opponent;

(v) while holding the ball push it into an opponent;

(vi) position so closely to an opponent that the Umpire considers that player is unable to move without contacting.

- NZ Herald

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