The Netball World Cup was first held in 1963. It’s the largest women’s sporting event on the planet – and for the first time it’s being hosted in Africa. Four African teams have made the final 16 of the 2023 tournament, which takes place in Cape Town, South Africa from July 28 until 6 August. They are Malawi, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe. Hosting the event carries significant implications for South Africa, but also for the growth and image of the sport in the rest of the continent. Kamilla Swart is a professor and scholar who specialises in sport tourism and mega-events like this. We asked her five questions.
How would you describe the state of the sport in Africa?
The tournament’s presence in South Africa reflects the growing popularity and development of netball in Africa. While netball has historically been more prominent in countries with Commonwealth ties, its appeal has been spreading across the continent. African nations have made significant strides in improving their netball infrastructure, coaching and player development programmes, making them more competitive on the international stage.
However, only six African countries have participated in previous World Cups: South Africa (nine times), Malawi (six), Uganda (three), Zambia, Namibia and Botswana (two). Zimbabwe makes its first appearance in 2023. It’s also interesting to note that six out of these seven countries are from southern Africa.
How do the four African teams rate?
In current rankings, South Africa is the top ranked African country in the world (5th), followed by Malawi (6th), Uganda (8th), Zimbabwe (13th) and Zambia (16th).
The competitiveness of African teams in the World Cup has likely improved over the years due to the increasing interest in the sport and the investments made in player development. Teams from South Africa, Malawi and Uganda have been particularly strong contenders and have the potential to cause upsets against more established netball nations.
Zimbabwe has been drawn alongside Australia, Fiji and Tonga in Group A. Australia is the top contender, with 11 wins in the tournament’s history.
In Group B, Malawi has been drawn alongside England, Scotland and Barbados. England (ranked third) is the only country in Group B that ranks higher than Malawi.
South Africa has been drawn alongside Jamaica, Sri Lanka and Wales in Group C and is only outranked by Jamaica (4th). South Africa caused an upset by beating Jamaica in the last World Cup.
Uganda has been drawn alongside defending champions New Zealand (ranked second with five wins to date), Trinidad and Tobago and Singapore in Group D. New Zealand is the only country in Group D that outranks Uganda.
Based on these rankings, most of the African teams should reach the top eight placements. South Africa achieved its best result at the last edition of the Netball World Cup in 2019 (finishing fourth) since being runners-up in 1995. They could make most of their home ground advantage and go all the way.
What’s the importance for South Africa of hosting the cup?
The woman who was tasked by World Netball with the delivery of a successful Netball World Cup event is Johannesburg-born Reabetswe Mpete. She contends that success for the South African team – called the Spar Proteas – in the global showpiece would benefit the country greatly. This being the first time the tournament is held in Africa, it’s also expected to bring a new flavour to the event.
It demonstrates South Africa’s ability to organise and host major sporting events, boosting its reputation as a destination. It also brings economic benefits through increased tourism, media exposure and infrastructure development, as well as fostering a sense of national pride.
Attitudes towards women’s sport have started to change dramatically in recent years thanks to tournaments such as this. Research has shown that the most recent World Cup, hosted by England in 2019, increased interest in the sport immensely.
With recent South African successes by Banyana Banyana (the national women’s football team), who won the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations for the first time in 2022, and the Momentum Proteas (the national women’s cricket team), who were runners-up in the ICC T20 Cricket World Cup 2023, also hosted in Cape Town, a good performance by the Proteas will add to the changing perceptions of women’s sport and how it is supported in South Africa.
And the impact for Cape Town?
This major sport event has been viewed as an opportunity to boost tourism recovery especially after the negative effects of COVID-19, develop related infrastructure and grow the economy.
As the host city, Cape Town experiences direct benefits. The city will witness an influx of visitors, athletes, officials and media, leading to increased economic activity. The event can also leave a lasting legacy by enhancing local sport facilities, inspiring the younger generation to take up netball, and encouraging community engagement in sport.
What does this do for netball in Africa?
Netball is the biggest women’s sport in South Africa (with an estimated two million active players), so it’s anticipated that the excitement of the World Cup will inspire its growth and development across the continent.
Sport and physical education promote and strengthen social cohesion among learners from various socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. And platforms like this provide an opportunity for sporting talent to be unearthed and nurtured; today’s young participants are tomorrow’s sport stars.
This could be the year that Africa triumphs at the Netball World Cup in more ways than just winning the trophy: spurring the development of a sport that is able to unite communities and boost women’s sports on the continent.