There is growing interest in netball following South Africa’s clean sweep over Northern Ireland earlier this month, and the first victory over Jamaica in 45 years during a test series in July. Netball fans will have much to look forward to at the annual Spar National Championships in Johannesburg next month.
More than 80 teams from all parts of the country have registered for the tournament, which will be played at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) from August 6 to 11. The tournament, which is always played around National Women’s Day, will be divided into A, B and C-sections, and there will also be a men’s competition.
Defending champions Gauteng North will be attempting to continue their dominance with a third successive win. They can expect strong competition from last year’s defeated finalists, Free State Motheo, as well as from Ekurhuleni and Nelson Mandela Bay.
With plenty of international netball coming up, including the inaugural Diamond Challenge, featuring South Africa, Botswana, Malawi and Tanzania, and the Quad Nations series against Australia, New Zealand and England later in the year, top players will be putting their best foot forward to ensure they catch the eye of the selectors.
But as Netball South Africa President Mimi Mthethwa pointed out, the SPAR National Championships is not just about the elite teams, but also about the teams playing in the lower divisions.
“Every player at the tournament will be doing her best for her team,” said Mthethwa. “Netball is a very competitive sport, and we expect a high standard of play in all divisions. Every team will be trying to do better than they did last year. “It is also a time to make new friends and renew old friendships,” she said.
Sport Minister Fikile Mbalula, who instigated the Diamond Challenge, has shown considerable interest in netball, and has called for the introduction of a professional netball league, to put South Africa on a par with countries like Australia and New Zealand, which have had professional competitions for a number of years.
“Support from Minister Mbalula has raised netball’s profile, and we are expecting great things in the future,” said Mthethwa.
SPAR Group Marketing Executive Mike Prentice said the grocery giant was very proud to be associated with the national championships. “Netball is our flagship sponsorship, and we have been associated with the sport for many years,” he said.
“As the biggest grocery chain in South Africa, it is only fitting that we should partner the country’s premier women’s sport. I hope all the players have a successful and happy week.”