Dana Johannsen on sport

Dana Johannsen is a Herald sport writer

Dana Johannsen: Netball's World Cup facelift a sound solution for a tricky situation

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Irene van Dyk. Photo / APN
Irene van Dyk. Photo / APN

The long overdue facelift to the netball world championships format - sorry, make that World Cup (that's what all the premier sports call it these days after all) - won't go far enough in many eyes, but it is a sound solution for a sport stuck in a difficult space.

Even the most ardent of netball fans would admit the sport's showcase event has become a dull and predictable affair.

Ahead of every tournament there is a sense of inevitability that after a week of lopsided results New Zealand and Australia would face off in the final.

There needed to be a change and it needed to be made ... well, about a decade ago.

But grappling the twin challenges of creating a compelling spectator product whilst making it a true world tournament is difficult enough as it is without throwing in the tight parameters organisers had to work within.

While the sport is making good strides towards professionalism in this part of the world, with increased commercial opportunities, elsewhere the going is slow.

Jamaica, considered a top tier nation, has only just appointed its first fulltime administrator.

Recognising the massive disparity that exists between the haves and the have nots in world netball the international netball federation (INF) has several principles in place which the organisers of the Sydney event must meet.

The most challenging of those is that the tournament must be no longer than 10 days because, given the limited resources in the sport, most teams cannot fund their stay for anything beyond that.

It is probably no surprise, then, that it took 36 drafts before the taskforce charged with revamping the format came up with a workable solution.

The result is a bit of a strange old system, where the top two nations are grouped in the same pool alongside the ninth and 10th ranked teams, while number three, four, 11 and 12 are in the next pool and so forth.

After the preliminary rounds they will be re-ranked from 1-16, with the top eight and bottom eight breaking off for qualifying rounds before the traditional semifinal and final format.

It's not perfect by any means, but it will ensure there are competitive matches from the outset of the tournament creating an event your casual sports fan will want to go to, and broadcasters will want to screen.

The last one is especially important. The only way for netball to break out of that difficult space where the smaller, under-resourced nations are slowing the development of the global game is to invest in those regions. But to do so, the sport's pinnacle event needs to start returning a healthy profit.

It's a conundrum netball administrators have faced for some time: it is hard convincing sponsors and broadcasters to invest when it is not a truly global game; but they cannot grow the game around the world without that money.

There is already work under way in Africa and INF has appointed a development manager in Asia, but there is still significant ground to make up. Until they do so the World Cup format will remain an imperfect system for an imperfect game.

- NZ Herald

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