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What is Netball?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 18 November 2014
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A sport that has its origins in the late 19th century, netball is usually understood to be a sport created for and pursued by women. Netball was invented by Clara Gregory Baer and has become one of the most popular sports for women in a number of nations around the world. Netball is extremely popular as both a participant and spectator sport in such countries as Australia, the United Kingdom, and the West Indies.

The origins of netball have a close association with the creation of the sport of basketball just a few years before. In essence, netball was created as a sport that would offer females a similar competitive exercise as the newly created game of basketball was offering for young men. As such, the basic rules for this form of women’s basketball were very close to those of men’s basketball. A few slight changes were made, mainly due to prevailing cultural factors regarding the abilities and proper roles of women in society.

One of the areas where this is illustrated is the mode of dress during participation in the game. The uniform leaned toward protecting feminine modesty in terms of the mores of the day than for easy movement on the playing field. As a result, netball players did not engage in the same level of running and dribbling that were common with their male basketball counterparts.

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One significant difference in netball regulations when compared to basic basketball rules is the creation of zoning areas, essentially establishing areas that each player would patrol. Some sources indicate the creation of zoning areas came about due to some misunderstanding on the part of Baer of the basic rules of movement on a basketball court, while other sources indicate that Baer intentionally included this innovation to help give netball an identity of its own. By 1901, netball had an officially recognized set of rules, and was also an established sport.

During the first half of the 20th century, netball became established in a number of countries. Over time, local elements began to be incorporated into the sport, which could make holding international competitions somewhat difficult. In 1960, national netball officials from South Africa, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Australia, and several countries in the West came together for the purpose of standardizing the regulations regarding the sport. The result of their efforts was the formation of an organization that is currently known as the International Federation of Netball Associations. By 1963, the first international tournament under the auspices of this new association took place. Since that time, the membership for the Federation has continued to grow, and more tournaments have been organized. Today, netball has grown into such an important sport that it became a recognized Olympic sport in 1995, and is now included in a number of lesser sporting competitions as well.

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