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Monday, December 6, 2021

What the Netball World Cup can do for SA

KARIEN JONCKHEERE|

Stands are currently empty and stadiums silent. But the good news for South African sport fans is that the next major international event planned for these shores is only in 2023, meaning there’s hope that the raucous cheers will have returned by then.

Two years from now, South Africa hosts the 2023 International Netball Federation (INF) World Cup. While planning and preparations have been somewhat affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s far from the impact it has had on events such as the Olympic Games, which had to be postponed by a year and even now hangs in the balance.

The woman tasked with the World Cup planning process is Johannesburg-born Reabetswe Mpete, who knows what it takes to stage a major sport event.

Having completed a degree in sport communication and then an honours degree in sport management at the University of Johannesburg, Mpete joined the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc), working on the organisation’s Operation Excellence programme and delivering South African teams to the 2016 Olympics and 2018 Commonwealth Games, among other tournaments. 

“I started in this position in October 2020. My role is project manager and this entails putting together an event strategy for the World Cup and meeting the key timelines set out by the International Netball Federation,” said Mpete.

“The planning is going well and with the support of all three spheres of government, we are working really hard to deliver a successful World Cup. Covid-19 has impacted a few planning processes but we are adapting and learning from other major events on different protocols that have worked.

“Before this, I worked as a high performance coordinator at Sascoc, working with Olympic athletes who were supported on a programme called Operation Excellence. I also worked on the delivery of Team SA to major games. All the experience working with elite athletes and international organising committees helped prepare me for my current role,” said Mpete, who admits she’s always been passionate about sport, playing hockey and netball at school and now trying her hand at golf.

The INF is thrilled to have Mpete on board, doing the groundwork for the tournament. “Planning is going really well for the event. The steering board is established and we are delighted to have Reabetswe Mpete on board to drive the planning forward,” said INF head of events Lindsay Impett. 

“We are in the fortunate position that the Netball World Cup is taking place in 2023 and at this stage Covid has not significantly impacted the planning process. We are currently in discussion with the regional federations regarding the five regional qualifiers that are due to take place in 2022 to ensure all teams are in the best possible position to compete for places at the Netball World Cup 2023.”

1 June 2019: Fans in full voice supporting the Eastern Cape Aloes in a Telkom Netball League fixture at the University of Pretoria’s Rembrandt Hall. The recent netball World Cup, hosted by England in 2019, boosted interest levels in the sport massively.

Changing perceptions of women’s sport

While some might have preferred the 2023 Rugby World Cup to be hosted in South Africa, instead of the netball version, research has shown that attitudes towards women’s sport have changed dramatically as a result of tournaments just like this one.

The most recent Netball World Cup, hosted by England in 2019, boosted interest levels in the sport massively.

“Off the back of what was a thrilling summer of women’s sport, in a survey of over 4 000 spectators of the event conducted by UK Sport, the government’s major events agency, in partnership with Sheffield Hallam University, it was found that 97% of respondents said they felt the Vitality Netball World Cup raised the overall profile of women’s sport in the UK. 61% of those surveyed said they felt happier than normal when attending the event,” said a report published by UK Sport. 

“England Netball calculates that 20.1 million adults said they were proud that England had hosted the 2019 Vitality Netball World Cup, and 5.1 million people that followed the event agreed that the Vitality Roses [England’s national netball team] are an inspiration to all girls. Plus, 26.6 million Brits said they would recommend netball to their daughters (real or imagined), this is an increase of 2.5 million people compared with last year [2018].”

1 June 2019: On-court action between the Eastern Cape Aloes and the Mpumalanga Sunbirds during a Telkom Netball League fixture. Netball is the biggest women’s sport in South Africa.

The report added: “After the captivating event came to an end, England Netball noted a 1 000% increase in visits to its online netball session finder compared to two weeks prior, over 900 new school registrations for its Under-11 Bee Netball programme and 71% of clubs saying they had more people showing an interest in playing than before the tournament, according to England Netball’s Big Netball Conversation survey.”

Mpete is hoping for a similar scenario when South Africa’s turn comes around. “This role I am in is an opportunity to be part of history and change the way women’s sport is seen in the world.

“The perception of women’s sport is continuously changing and getting better through the coverage it is receiving. However, we do need more support from corporate.”

At the 2019 Netball World Cup in Liverpool, the Proteas pulled off an impressive win over Jamaica’s Sunshine Girls. It was a breakthrough victory over the then second-ranked team in the world that secured them a place in the semifinals, where they lost narrowly to 11-time champions Australia. That was their best result since the South African side claimed silver on their readmission to the tournament in 1995. 

“That has played an immense role in proving that the Spar Proteas are capable of finishing top of the podium,” said Mpete. “The growth of women’s sports in South Africa can be attributed to the successful performances by the Spar Proteas, the Momentum Proteas and Banyana Banyana,” she added, referring to the national women’s cricket and football teams. 

An African showcase 

As for the possibility of the Proteas making the most of their home-ground advantage and lifting the trophy in 2023, Mpete said: “It would definitely change the way women’s sport is seen and supported in South Africa.”

Cape Town has been selected as the city that will host the World Cup. It is a sporting event that brings together about 200 athletes and more than 50 officials from around the world, where 16 teams will battle it out for the world title currently held by New Zealand.

This will be the first time the tournament is held on the African continent and Mpete said South Africa will bring a new flavour to the proceedings.

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