Netball woes

One of the region’s netball pioneers, Kathy Harper-Hall, is dissatisfied with the standard of the Caribbean’s major female sport.

Kathy Harper-Hall
Kathy Harper-Hall

And she bemoans the fact that while Jamaica continue to make steady advances with their game, the rest of the Caribbean islands are lagging far behind.

Speaking to Barbados TODAY after receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award in Antigua over the weekend for her 55 years’ service to regional netball and to mark the Caribbean Netball Association’s 60th Jubilee, Harper-Hall said many of the problems with regional netball related to attitudes, distractions and the belief that the sport did not offer the opportunities that such as basketball and track and field presented.

“I am not satisfied with the level of netball I have been seeing in the wider Caribbean, except for Jamaica that is way ahead of everybody else. I think we have still not yet found the right formula to get our sport where it has to go and a lot of it has to do with attitudes and a lot of distractions which netballers never had to deal with in the past with all the technology around. Players are now distracted and they are not into the game as people used to be at one stage.

“With netball not being firmly established in the United States where people can get a lot of scholarships, netballers feel there is nothing there for them except travel. They do not see it as a sport that can give them a future like basketball, volleyball or track and field where they can get scholarships to go overseas, study and have a future in or out of the sport. So you find that we have not excelled where they ought to. Our players are not as motivated as they should be because they figure that this is a fun thing,” Harper- Hall said.

Asked why she believed the Jamaicans were a cut above the other netball nations in the Caribbean, Harper-Hall said that sports in Jamaica was seen as a business.

“First of all sports in Jamaica is a business and in Jamaica people take sports seriously, so you find sports is supported. Not just netball, but sports like track and field and basketball will excel because they are supported. The Jamaica Netball Association for instance has a netball house where they will bring in their national players and house them and train them. They also have a 25-seater bus that was donated to them,” Harper-Hall said.

She noted that Jamaica’s success did not just happen overnight and that the reggae men and women had to work hard to get to where they were at present.

The veteran sports administrator said the Barbados Netball Association needed a home, from which they could operate more efficiently instead of still being in the mode where they were still operating out of the boot of somebody’s car. The president of the Caribbean Netball Association since 1996 suggested that corporate Barbados tended to treat netball and female sports in general very shabbily when it came to sponsorship.

“There seems to be some sort of reticence on the part of corporate people to sponsor female sports and we are not sure why. Don’t matter who you approach for sponsorship they may simply give you a donation. While the male dominated sports get big-time sponsorship. Netball just cannot seem to get there. We are still trying to find out why.”

She added: “The idea of corporate people coming out and saying: ‘look, netball is the major female sports – because that’s how they look at it in Tobago – this is the sports for our women and we are supporting our women.’ I really wish we could view it that way here too. And if you notice the majority of the sports or I would say 90 per cent of the sports played here in Barbados and the Easter Caribbean are played by men. Women are more than 50 per cent of the population but women’s sports is only ten percent of the sporting population. And as I said we really need to sit down and do a study and find out why.”

Harper-Hall said the only organisation in Barbados that treated netball as an equal to all the other sports was the Barbados Olympic Association.

“Any privileges that are granted to the other sports are also granted to netball. Although netball is not an Olympic sport, the Barbados Netball Association is an affiliate of the BOA and they treat them equal to any other affiliate,” she said.

Financing netball in Barbados, Harper-Hall noted, was a major headache. She explained that in order for the Barbados Netball Association to play their league tournament they had to pay $50 per night for the use of the Netball Stadium and $50 per hour for use of electricity. She added that on any given occasion that netball was played at the stadium the BNA had to pay at least $200 per night and the league season ran for almost four months, three to four nights each week.

“So we are talking $800 per week to play netball. So tell me how the game would be able to survive? You go right next door to any of the other Eastern Caribbean islands and they do not have to pay the government to use the facility. Instead, the government provides a facility for the sport. We just returned from Antigua where we had the tournament and there was no charge for the use of the facility or the utilities. The government accepted the responsibility to provide these amenities.

“We are still saying that we want our sports to reach the top, but when are we going to get there? When you really think about it, where is the ladder that we are going to climb to reach to the top? We are so far from where we ought to have been and yet we expect our athletes to work miracles and when they do not we treat them like they could have done much better,” she said.

Harper-Hall described her almost six decades as player, coach, umpire and administrator as one fuelled by passion for the sport.

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