Netball Australia has backed the lead taken by one of its state federations after an overhaul of uniforms was announced in an attempt to foster greater inclusion in the modern-day game.
Netball NSW on Tuesday unveiled a new range of apparel to offer players more flexibility and broaden the appeal of the game in a move that could spell the end for the traditional netball dress.
Dresses will still available to those who still want to wear them, but added on-court options now include a range of singlets, T-shirts, long-sleeve tops, shorts and compression wear.
“Netball NSW believes that all participants should, as far as possible, be supported in wearing a uniform that allows them to participate in netball in the manner in which they feel most comfortable,” Netball NSW CEO Tain Drinkwater said.
“The key aim of this is to make sure we advance our position as a sport for people not just of all cultural backgrounds and gender identities, but all shapes and sizes too.
“It is clear that rigidity when it comes to clubs only allowing dresses is holding back our participation numbers.”
There are currently no regulations that stipulate dresses must be worn by players. Instead, rules around playing apparel are set at a competition level, with associations responsible for prescribing uniform parameters for their affiliated clubs.
Member organisations do the same for teams playing in state-level events and Netball Australia sets the parameters for the country’s professional competition, Super Netball.
But the new apparel range, manufactured by Valour Sport, now gives those community clubs and associations a far broader range of options and the chance to ensure uniforms can be more inclusive.
“We are encouraging all affiliated clubs and associations to embrace adaptability and flexibility around uniforms in order to encourage continued participation and enjoyment in our sport,” Drinkwater said.
“From today, they have the tools to do just that, backed by new inclusive uniform guidelines prepared by Netball NSW.”
The scheme got the backing of the national governing body, Netball Australia, whose State of the Game review last year had highlighted the issue after it found existing uniform options presented barriers to many wanting to take up or continue playing the game.
“Netball Australia works closely with our state and territory member organisations on innovative approaches to the administration that addresses barriers to participation and creates more inclusive and welcoming environments for everyone to play, deliver and enjoy our game,” Netball Australia CEO Kelly Ryan said.
“Netball Australia encourages all state and territory member organisations to embrace adaptability and flexibility around uniforms … [and] believes these changes will grow our game and everyone’s enjoyment of it.”
Surveys of grassroots netballers helped inform the initiative, with one study carried out by Victoria University finding that 58% of girls did not want to wear skirts during sport outside of school and 64% preferred to wear dark-coloured bottoms.
Another study conducted by the University of Sydney revealed that only 8% of Netball NSW members speak a language other than English and only 6% are born overseas.
Those from a multicultural or culturally and linguistically diverse background were found to be more likely (32%) to drop out after only one year than English-speaking or Australia-born counterparts.
“In many ways this is a watershed moment,” Drinkwater said of the initiative. “Netball has been the leader in so many areas, but not when it comes to widening its appeal beyond traditional bases. It is time to change that.”