Tracey Neville MBE, the former England Netball head coach who guided the Roses to Commonwealth Gold in 2018, is launching a campaign to recruit the UK‚Äôs netballers to a Netball Army to support the efforts to save the sport.
Neville, who has played and coached across all levels of the sport ‚Äď from local club to representing her country, believes that the impact of the first lockdown had a disproportionate impact on women‚Äôs sport and that the second lockdown this week in England, and restrictions in the other nations, will cause even more damage to women‚Äôs health ‚Äď both physical and mental.
Netball is the UK‚Äôs biggest female team sport with over a third of a million people regularly playing prior to the pandemic. But Sport England and the Youth Sport Trust found only a quarter of women were regularly remaining active in the first lockdown, with more anxiousness than men about going out to exercise.
Now, working alongside the reigning Superleague champions Manchester Thunder, who Neville played for and coached, she is trying to rally support to ensure the voice of netballers is heard by those making decisions about what is allowed and what isn‚Äôt – both during and after the current restrictions, which are having an impact on the sport across all the nations of the UK.
She is asking all netballers, and those who love the sport, to go to www.netballarmy.com and tell her about the impact the pandemic has had on them and their netball as they sign up to join the Netball Army.
Tracey Neville said: ‚ÄúAs the UK‚Äôs most popular female team sport, netball has an important role to play in many women‚Äôs lives and the challenge of training and playing in the past eight months has had a serious impact.
‚ÄúThere is a real risk that netball is losing a generation of young people who might be the stars of the future, but even more importantly there‚Äôs a real risk that women of all ages are missing out on the fitness and friendship that netball brings. Those making the decisions that impact on us all simply don‚Äôt appreciate the importance of sport in general, and our sport in particular, and it‚Äôs time that changed.
‚ÄúFrom elite level to the local leisure centre, it‚Äôs hard to escape the conclusion that men‚Äôs sport has been prioritised across the UK with sports predominantly played by women, like netball, being left out in the cold. Often, literally.
‚ÄúThat‚Äôs why I want to build a Netball Army ‚Äď to save our sport and show what netball means to you, and to us all, so that our collective voice can‚Äôt be ignored.‚ÄĚ
Debbie Hallas, Managing Director of Manchester Thunder and Senior Coach at Oldham Netball Club, said: ‚ÄúThis week, even the tentative steps that netball has taken to safely return in England will come to an abrupt halt as leisure centres close, the gates of courts are locked and we‚Äôre unable to meet up with our friends and teammates.
‚ÄúWith similar restrictions across the other nations of the UK, there is a real need for action to show why netball matters and why it‚Äôs more than a sport to the women who play for fun or competitively week-in, week-out.
‚ÄúNo-one doubts the impact of coronavirus and the need to protect our amazing NHS, but we also need those making decisions to understand the impact of stopping the sport that keeps women physically and mentally active ‚Äď both in the short and long-term.‚ÄĚ