There'd be few countries in the world that celebrate the success of women's sport like New Zealand. But then there's plenty of it.

Just this week a group of schoolgirls made a significant breakthrough in the biggest sport in the world by taking third place at the FIFA Women's Under 17 World Cup. Their senior counterparts qualified easily for the next Women's World Cup too.

On Monday night, the success of the Black Ferns Sevens was recognised again when the New Zealand Olympic Committee awarded them the Lonsdale Cup as the outstanding athletes in an Olympic sport during the past year.

The Black Ferns Sevens after winning the Championship match against France during day two of the Rugby World Cup Sevens earlier this year. Photo / Getty Images
The Black Ferns Sevens after winning the Championship match against France during day two of the Rugby World Cup Sevens earlier this year. Photo / Getty Images

Football and sevens for women are now an integral part of the sporting scene across the country. All this raises the question – how's netball doing?

Young people are always inspired to play a sport by the achievements of their national teams. It's not hard to imagine primary and intermediate school girls signing up for football after seeing what happened in Uruguay.

Women and girls are already the fastest growing section of rugby participation – both sevens and 15s.

But despite all this success from sevens and football, netball still reigns supreme as the country's number 1 women's sport.

There were 144,358 registered netball players as of 2017. Virtually all of them were women.

In comparison rugby, despite the growth trend for women's rugby going only in one direction, has just 28,000 female players.

Football doesn't seem to provide a gender split among its 150,000 registered players but let's say it's a 50-50 split and the number is way less than netball. Although there has been a 35 percent growth in women footballers in the last five years.

History counts for plenty. Netball has often been the only option for women during the time of organised sport in New Zealand dating back about 150 years. Other games were deemed too rough and unladylike.


Hockey has always been in the mix but women's football and rugby are relative newcomers to our sporting landscape. It's not hard to see why. Modern women and girls like to run on grass fields as much as boys and men. They like to contest a ball in contact as much as males. They like to play a game where everybody has a chance to score a goal or a try.

These are netball's great threats. It's a game where you are restricted in the parts of the court you can be on. You're not allowed (or not supposed) to have contact. Only two players can score goals.

Then there's the Silver Ferns and their flailing international status.

For now netball still reigns supreme. The numbers say it's not really under threat as our major women's sport but another 20 years of success and progress by various incarnations of the Black Ferns and White Ferns and who knows?

The late George HW Bush. Photo / Getty Images
The late George HW Bush. Photo / Getty Images

Just once, briefly, I was in the vicinity of the late George HW Bush.

This was at the President's Cup golf match at Royal Melbourne in 1998. The 41st US president was a keen golfer and came from a family distinguished in the administration of the sport.

His father Prescott Bush was president of the United States Golf Association and his maternal grandfather George Herbert Walker, after whom the late president was named, was also a USGA president and the man who gave his name to the Walker Cup, the famous amateur teams match between the USA and Great Britain and Ireland.

George HW Bush was the President's Cup Honorary Chairman in 1998 and as such had free rein to wander as he wished around the course while we mere mortals had to stay behind the ropes.

I was standing beside a green at one stage and there weren't many spectators around. Then the former president arrived unobtrusively, hopped over the rope and sat himself down at the base of a TV scaffold, leaning back against one of the poles and rocking the camera platform 30 metres up.

The cameraman, no doubt feeling uncomfortable about swaying uncontrollably at such a height, took his head out of the viewfinder, removed his headphones and shouted down to the perpetrator of the scaffold rocking, not recognising who it was, "hey mate, stop f*****g rocking my tower. Just p**s off and sit somewhere else."

The former leader of the free world, knowing that perhaps he'd taken his privilege a bit too far, ever so politely looked up at the cameraman, and said "I'm so sorry sir, I'll move right now".

George HW Bush has been remembered this week as a man of the utmost integrity and impeccable manners. That small incident 20 years ago personifies those qualities.