Did you know that Netball is not an Olympic Sport? 


Women were first able to compete in the Olympic Games in 1900 in just 3 events, tennis, croquet and golf. Despite Netball’s worldwide popularity, leading up to the Paris Summer Olympics ‘24, Netball still remains unrecognised as an Olympic sport, despite being officially recognised by the IOC (International Olympic Committee) in 1995 after 20 years of campaigning!



As we approach Paris 2024, the absence of netball from the Games remains a significant hurdle for the sport’s global expansion, leading to limited media exposure and financial support from professional to grassroots Netball. 

For a sport to be included in the Olympic Programme, it must boast ‘widespread global participation’, this means that the sport must be played by men in at least 75 countries, and by women in at least 40 countries. Netball is most popular within the Commonwealth countries, as it was a game initially shared between countries whilst on ‘official visits’ of the Royal Family. According to the IFNA (International Federation of Netball Associations), Netball is played by over 20 million people, in over 72 countries – including men’s and women’s teams! – But this is still not enough to be allowed into the Olympic Games.  


Historic Bias


Unfortunately for Netball, as a majority women’s sport, the path to Olympic inclusion has been hindered by historic societal biases favouring male athletes, resulting in unequal financial backing and media coverage between male and female sports. While male team sports often dominate the headlines and receive substantial funding and viewership, fueled by the perception that men have greater opportunities for success at the highest competitive levels, women’s team sports have struggled to garner the same level of attention.    

This bias is reflected in the media, not just to do with the Olympics, where male sports receive more coverage, funding, sponsorships and endorsements compared to female sports. Men’s team and individual athletes often become household names, while women’s team sports are frequently overshadowed. Instead, the media tends to focus on women’s individual sports, such as swimming, track & field and gymnastics, rather than highlighting women’s team sports like cricket, netball and rugby.   


Team Sports


Men’s country and club football, rugby and cricket teams are all household names, we hear about these players professional and private lives every day in the news, social media, when they are on TV, in countless documentaries, and even computer games! For example, think about how many England men’s Rugby players you could name compared to the England women’s? Did you know that the women’s 6 Nations is held just after the men’s competition has finished, could you name any players, did you even know it was on TV? (it never used to be!) Think about the men’s premier league too, how many players could you name compared to the WSL?  


Individual Sports


Compare that to individual sports, and it’s (almost) a level playing field in terms of house-hold names, however the funding, exposure and sponsorships are far but equal! We all know, love, support and champion athletes like Andy Murray, Lewis Hamilton, Tyson Fury, Usain Bolt, Rory McIlroy just as much as Dame Kelly Holmes, Paula Radcliffe, Simone Biles, Jessica Ennis-Hill and Serena Williams. So why is there such a big difference in exposure between team and individual women’s sports? The difference, and issue, between men’s and women’s team sport is exposure, or in the case of women’s team sports, chronic, historic lack of exposure, and for women it has been unjust far too long.   

If there wasn’t this huge gap between the exposure of female team sports and female individual sports, would Netball be in the Olympics already? 20 million worldwide netball players would love to know.  


Lioness Effect


What Netball needs is the Lioness effect. Exposure for women’s football has sky-rocketed. With the recent successes of England Lionesses at the Euros and the World Cup bringing attention to the importance of equality in sport, we have seen a huge amount more funding, exposure and respect for the women’s game in just the past few years.

The men’s England football team have not won an international competition since 1966 but have always had the airtime, newspaper headlines, funding and support handed to them before even the group stages begin! So has the boom in exposure for women’s football only been achieved by our Lionesses having to fight and prove themselves and have to actually win an international competition to gain the recognition, respect and exposure of the media? We now hear about the Lionesses on national TV, in Newspapers and on social media, we see their images on adverts, presenting live coverage of games, and we know their names, because of the effort that has been made by these inspiring women and them having the opportunity to make a difference. We need the same for other female team sports.  


We are ready and waiting!


Things have been slowly improving for Netball , the BBC are now covering a selection of matches from the Netball Super League, and aired some World Cup and Commonwealth Games matches, with England placing second and fourth respectively, but only a small sample of games were shown. What is confusing is that the audience is ready and waiting but the media and coverage hasn’t caught up! Netball is the most played female team-sport in the UK, played by over 1.3 million women, which, compared to the most recent participation figures for women’s football, shows 737% more women playing netball than football in the UK. 


Getting the world excited about Netball!


England win place in Netball World Cup 2023 final. Image copyright from The Telegraph

As Netball isn’t in the Olympics, we only have the Commonwealth Games and the Netball World Cup in our calendar to get the world excited about netball! Not being in the Olympics is a huge blow to funding and exposure opportunities. After the Roses’ triumph at the Commonwealth Games in 2018, we saw a huge spike in participation figures within the UK, with 135,000 more people taking to the court to play in social and competitive leagues, with a further 160,000 after the World Cup in England in 2019. If Netball were allowed in the Olympics, who knows what the figures could total.  We can’t even begin to think about the possibility of the Commonwealth Games not going ahead in 2026 (Victoria pulling out of hosting the Games, with no new host yet confirmed). With the Commonwealth Games being one of our largest and most important international competitions potentially at risk, the outcome could be devastating to our sport and athletes. 

After 130 years, the IOC’s recognition of netball’s federation in 1995 opened doors to previously inaccessible funding sources, including support from the IOC itself, national Olympic committees, and sporting governing bodies. Without this recognition in 1995, we would not have as many children and adults playing netball in the UK as we do today! There would be less funding for schools, netball courts, training, equipment, coaches, umpires, development programmes for athletes, and potentially no Netball Super League – which only started in 2005!! Can you believe that?   


Netball in the Olympics 2028… 2032… 2036?


However, despite over a century of history, recognition from the IOC, the establishment of hundreds of professional clubs and competitions worldwide, technological advancements, and the success of events like the Netball World Cup and the Commonwealth Games, not to mention over 20,000 players playing weekly in our Play Netball leagues, the sport is still not where it deserves to be! With the Roses success at the 2023 Netball World Cup inspiring the next generation of netball-lovers, we firmly believe that the funding we need, the exposure that’s deserved and Olympic dreams for netball is just a short time away!   

It’s up to all of us to keep the demand and momentum going for women’s team sports, our teams deserve more! So, follow that team on social media, make it your mission to discover a new female sport, tune into the women’s 6 Nations, and especially for Netball; watch the Netball Super League and cheer on our athletes! We WILL see you in the Olympics one day!   


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