Zanele Mdodana Eager for ‘Massive Task’ as South Africa’s Pro Netball League Dream Begins

Zanele Mdodana (right) joins dignitaries following Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture Zizi Kodwa’s confirmation that the former Spar Proteas captain will join previous Netball SA CEO Blanche de la Guerre as part of an expert panel tasked to create a professional netball league, among other announcements on the day. Photo: Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture on X

The long-held dream of South Africa establishing a professional netball league is looking like more of a reality, after Sports Minister Zizi Kodwa announced the members of the expert panel tasked to make this project happen, on Wednesday 28 November 2023 

The panel will be in charge of establishing a blueprint for the development of Netball in the country, and will see its term expected to review netball’s strategy and the effort to increase mass participation, to ensure Netball becomes a first choice sport in communities. 

They will ensure that the national league sees success as a commercial product, and that it generates revenue for the system to increase the broadcast value and aid the path to professionalisation. Another duty will be achieving excellence in the international rankings at major international competitions, as well as being expected to deal with matters pertaining to governance and finance.

One name that catches the eye on the panel is former Proteas captain Zanele Mdodana. Since Mdodana came onto the netball stage she has been very vocal about what her beloved sport needs, and being the person she is, she has been doing her best to give back where she can.

Mdodana is on the panel in an advisory role, and says that being part of the project will allow her to continue to use her voice for the betterment of the sport, and for those who play it.  

“It allows me to be a voice and make sure that we work well and work with integrity to take netball to the level it’s supposed to be at, which is number one in Africa and to be competing in the top three in the world,” Mdodana told gsport.

“It’s an opportunity now as we prepare for the 2027 Netball World Cup, for us to get all our ducks in a row and make sure we follow a proper practice. It’s an exciting place to be, but also something I don’t take for granted. We know it’s not going to be smooth sailing, but I am personally looking forward to the challenge.”

Netball has been on the up and a big milestone was reached in 2022 when 24 Spar Proteas players were handed their first professional contracts. Captain Bongi Msomi, Khanyisa Chawane, and Karla Pretorius were among the players who secured these contracts. This was a huge step in creating a professional environment for players, as the reality for most sportswomen is having to juggle their sporting career as well as a job and sometimes even motherhood. 

Mdodana says having a professional league based in South Africa has many positives, including strengthening the game and players, as well as enabling them to improve on all levels, and particularly being able to compete against the best. 

“It would mean everything to the players to have a professional league. We have the Telkom Netball League but we also understand that players are not playing netball at a professional level.”

“They still have to have jobs, and for us to be competitive in the world, we need a professional league. We will need to open up our league, so that it’s open not only to South African-based players but also for African players. As well as other international players to strengthen and boost the quality, standard of play, and competitiveness.” 

“We have been privileged to have most of our Proteas players play overseas for professional franchises. But to have an in-house professional league where international players would look to come and play in South Africa would really boost the standard and quality of our players and also our performance. So that is something Netball South Africa is working towards and we will have to assist to make sure we eventually get there,” said Mdodana.

A host of Proteas players also scored professional netball league contracts after the World Cup this year. Eight players will be playing in the Super League for various teams across the United Kingdom. Among them, Elmere van der Berg and Shadine van der Merwe will be playing for Manchester Thunder. While Chawane will turn out for Celtic Dragons in Cardiff, Nichole Taljaard joined London Pulse and World Cup debutant Owethu Ngubane will play for the Strathclyde Sirens in Scotland. Jeante’ Strydom will be heading Down Under to join Southern Steel in New Zealand. 

The World Cup has certainly helped in speeding up the process of creating a fully-fledged professional league in South Africa. Mdodana believes this can only spearhead netball in the right direction as South Africa looks to become one of the best teams in the world.  

“We saw the standard of the top teams in the World Cup and for us to compete with them we need to make sure that we are a professional code in South Africa. We’ve got the talent but you can’t part-time netball and think you are going to be competitive against teams that are playing netball on a professional level.”

“It’s really going to be a massive task for us to make sure that we get all systems going. But this is what it’s about, it’s not about talking about it anymore, it’s about really the implementation and putting the right systems in place. By the time we get to the 2027 World Cup, South Africa must be a country that people know is going there to cause a couple of upsets and be a massive threat.“

The Newly-Announced Independent Advisory Panel on Netball

Maria Magdalena Bezuidenhout, University of Pretoria Netball
Nozipho Jafta, CEO of SASCOC
Blanche De la Guerre, former CEO of Netball South Africa
Zanele Mdodana, former Spar Proteas Captain, Netball coach at University of Stellenbosch
Dr. Hajira Mashego, an Academic and Director of Sport at Tshwane University of Technology

Photo caption: The long-held dream of netball in South Africa to establish a professional league is looking like becoming a reality, following the announcement of a panel by Sports Minister Zizi Kodwa, on Wednesday, 28 November 2023. Photo: Minister Zizi Kodwa on X

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