Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Unlimited imports 'threat to game' - Netball NZ

Mystics defender Anna Harrison attempts to block a shot from the Swifts. Photo / Doug Sherring
Mystics defender Anna Harrison attempts to block a shot from the Swifts. Photo / Doug Sherring

Netball New Zealand is railing against moves by its Australian counterpart to allow unlimited imports in their new domestic league next year.

The Australians yesterday confirmed their intention to lift import restrictions in their national league as each country goes ahead with standalone domestic competitions once the ANZ Championship is disestablished at the end of the season.

The decision has not gone down well with other national bodies, including Netball NZ, with concerns that the siphoning off of the world's top talent into one competition will have a negative impact on the global game, which is already struggling for credibility.

Netball NZ's acting chief executive Steve Lancaster said the organisation has written to the International Netball Federation (INF) to outline its concerns.

"We have some reservations about whether that's in the best interests of the game internationally. We take the view that we want to see the game strong around the globe, and we want to see Netball World Cups and Commonwealth Games that are increasingly competitive - that's good for the game," he said.

"We're not contemplating going down the path of opening up import restrictions for our competition in that vein."

While Netball NZ is pitching itself as a responsible global citizen, there is a degree of self-interest as well. Not only will it want to ensure it retains the country's top playing talent for its own new competition, but it will want to ensure Kiwi franchises aren't going to lose out when the race for the big-name stars from England and Jamaica ramps up.

Netball Australia has made no secret of its ambitions for their new eight-team league, which will start in February next year.

"If we want to be the best competition in the world, we need to look further afield and welcome the world's best athletes to our competition," said Netball Australia boss Kate Palmer.

Lancaster said while Netball NZ is mindful of the risk of Kiwi players being targeted by Australian teams, it is confident the opportunities here - both financial and development-wise - will be attractive to the athletes.

"We think we've got a compelling proposition here in New Zealand for players to stay and play, not to mention the international eligibility factor as well," he said, referring to the Silver Ferns selection criteria, which stipulates players must be based in New Zealand to be eligible for the national team.

It's understood England Netball is also troubled by Netball Australia's plans. The English are worried they may lose further big name stars to overseas competitions, undermining the recent progress made in lifting the profile of the sport in the UK.

The Super League has this year been expanded to include 10 teams on the back of a boost in television coverage.

The INF plans to address the concerns at a congress meeting next week.

- NZ Herald

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