Pacific netball remain resilient through COVID

PHOTO: PacificAus Sports

Netball playing nations in the Pacific are looking forward to finally playing international Tests again after COVID-19 forced them into a hiatus more than two years ago.

Financial restraints and small player pools have always been a challenge for countries like Fiji, Samoa, and Cook Islands, but a massive blow came when COVID-19 started shutting down international travel from around March 2020.

Tonga, Fiji, Samoa, and Papua New Guinea were meant to play curtain raisers during a Constellation Cup series between New Zealand and Australia in October last year. That never went ahead due to travel restrictions.

Netball officials around the region have raised concerns over the difficulties they have faced and highlighted ways to possibly better the organisation of netball in the Pacific.

Unfortunately, none of the Pacific countries qualified for the sport of netball in the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. Travel restrictions made it nigh impossible to qualify for this year’s Games.

The need for financial assistance is the common denominator between these Pacific island nations to support their netball journeys.

Mii Maui of Netball Cook Islands said, “Financially [it] is always a struggle to take a team to international events but we always try and participate to make sure we get an opportunity to go to World Cups or to any of the other big events.”

The President of Netball Fiji, Vivian Koster said they have sought to support the Fiji Pearls, “and we’ve been able to do that with funding support from Netball Australia but also development support from Netball New Zealand.”

Perhaps Samoa’s Head Coach Frances Solia may have perfectly summed up the situation by saying, “We need money at the end of the day to make things happen. It’s really hard in the Pacific and we’re all in the same boat.”

Pacific nations have a proud history in the sport – at the 2007 Netball World Cup the Cook Islands, Samoa, and Fiji finished 7th, 8th, and 9th respectively.

Little by little, they’ve been sliding down the world rankings, and been overtaken by countries who have bigger player bases and more resources.

And COVID-19 has just added to the challenges.

Fiji is hosting Cook Islands, Tonga, Samoa and Papua New Guinea in World Cup qualifier in Suva next month. Teams have to finish in the top two to qualify for the 2023 World Cup and there are no more opportunities to qualify after that.

The last international setting that featured these island nations was in the PacificAus Netball Series in March of this year which Tonga won emphatically.

So currently, Cook Islands, Fiji, and Samoa sit from 14 to 16 on the world netball rankings list. But the key focus now is to play more test matches and qualify for the 2023 Netball World Cup in South Africa.

Hoping to turn things around, the Pacific netball officials remained positive and believes with the right support system and necessary funding things will turn out well in the future.