New Zealand’s leading women’s sport, netball originated as women’s basketball. National team the Silver Ferns have been world champions several times – although arch rivals Australia have beaten them to the title by just one goal on four occasions.
Full story by Suzanne McFadden
Main image: Temepara George playing against Jamaica in the 2006 Commonwealth Games, Melbourne
The Short Story
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Netball is New Zealand’s leading women’s sport, played by women and girls of all ages – and increasingly by men and boys.
Netball is a seven-a-side game, based on running, throwing, jumping and catching. Goals are scored by throwing a ball through an elevated hoop.
Netball originated in the United States, as basketball. Women’s basketball began to be played in New Zealand around the start of the 20th century, and was promoted by the Reverend J. C. Jamieson. There were nine in a team, playing on grass courts. Because women’s heavy clothes restricted movement, they passed the ball from hand to hand instead of dribbling it.
Basketball associations were set up around the country from 1915. By 1935 basketball was the most popular winter sport for New Zealand girls and women.
First international games
New Zealand played its first international match in 1938, against Australia.
International rules were agreed in 1957 and applied in New Zealand from 1959. There were now seven players in a team. The first world tournament was in London in 1963, and New Zealand were runners-up to Australia, losing by one goal.
Basketball to netball
In 1970 the sport became known as netball in New Zealand. It was played on outdoor asphalt courts, and was becoming faster and more physical. From the early 1990s top-level netball was played on indoor courts.
From the 1980s the national netball association worked to promote the game in New Zealand – and, later, around the Pacific. In the 2000s children could play from age five, and there was strong Māori and Pacific Island participation. Men were also increasingly playing netball.
From the mid-1920s the main New Zealand competition was the Dominion Tournament. From 2008 the ANZ Championship involved top players from both Australia and New Zealand.
The world championships (the Netball World Cup) are held every four years, and are dominated by New Zealand and Australia. The national team, the Silver Ferns, have been world champions four times, and were Commonwealth Games gold medallists in 2010.
Well-known netballers include:
- Dame Lois Muir, who was vice-captain of the national team in 1963 and its coach from 1974 to 1989
- Irene van Dyk, a South African goal shooter who moved to New Zealand in 2000
- Ruth Aitken, who coached the Silver Ferns to many victories from 2001.