Netball World Cup: Get up to speed with SA’s most popular women’s sport

South Africa is hosting the first Netball World Cup to be played on African soil. Here’s our guide to understanding the game

By mamaili.mamaila
Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Spar Proteas squad. Photo: @Netball_SA/Twitter

  • The Netball World Cup is being held in Africa for the first time in the tournament’s 60-year history
  • South Africa’s national netball team, known as the Spar Proteas, is playing. They are the top-ranked netball team in Africa and are coached by Australian Norma Plummer
  • Three other African teams have qualified: Zimbabwe, Malawi and Uganda

The Netball World Cup is being held on African soil for the first time this year. Four of Africa’s top teams will be playing in the tournament, which runs from 28 July to 6 August in Cape Town.

South Africa, Malawi, Uganda and Zimbabwe are the top four teams in Africa, according to the latest World Netball rankings. They also feature in the top 20 netball teams in the world.

The Netball World Cup has been held every four years since its first tournament in 1963 in England. This is the 10th time South Africa will be participating. They were banned during the apartheid era. South Africa became the only African team to have ever receive a medal at the competition when they placed second in 1995.

There are 16 countries represented this year. Only three countries have been world champions in the tournament’s 60-year history: Australia have won 11 times, defending champions New Zealand have won 5 times and Trinidad and Tobago have won the trophy once.

Read more

South Africa will host the Netball World Cup in 2023 – what you need to know

Rules of the game

Netball is South Africa’s most popular women’s sport, with many of its foundations being laid at school level. Nearly half of the government schools in South Africa have netball courts, and it is formally played at about 8,500 schools.

Despite this, many people don’t know much about it, so let’s get you up to speed.

  • A netball match consists of four 15-minute quarters
  • Every team can have between five to seven players on the court at any time
  • Players cannot hold the ball for more than three seconds and they cannot take more than 1.5 steps when in possession of the ball
  • The ball must go through the ringed hoop for a goal to be given

The court is divided into three sections, which are divided into two goal thirds and the centre. There are set positions in a netball team, which limit where the player can be on the court. These are: goal shooter, goal attack, wing attack, centre wing defence, goal defence and the goalkeeper.

The netball ball must be moved around the court by passing and there are several different passes available to a player, such as the chest pass, bounce pass, lob, overhead pass and shoulder pass.

A goal is scored in netball when the ball is passed to a player in the goal third who shoots the ball through their opponent’s goal ring. Only the goal shooter or goal attack can score goals in netball, and they must be within the semicircle when they shoot.

South Africa’s pride

The South African national netball team, also known as the Spar Proteas, is the leading netball team in Africa. The team is coached by Australian Norma Plummer, who has won the Netball World Cup both as a player and coach. In 2019, Plummer led the Spar Proteas to a fourth-place position.

Plummer’s 2023 netball squad is a mix of both youth and experience.

A third of the squad are overseas-based players in professional netball leagues. The remainder of the squad competes in the semiprofessional Telkom Netball League in South Africa.

  • The team, with an average age of 28, is led by captain Bongi Msomi and vice captain Karla Pretorius
  • The Spar Proteas have two centurions: Msomi, who is the most-capped Spar Protea with 158 caps, and Phumza Maweni, who has 108 caps
  • There are four World Cup debutants: Elmere van der Berg, Nicola Smith, Nichole Taljaard and Jeante Strydom
  • The rest of Plummer’s technical team is made up of assistant coach Dumisani Chauke, specialist coach Nicole Cusack and team manager Nisha Rupnarain

Competitive advantage

In a sport like netball, being tall is an advantage. The tallest player at this year’s tournament is Sri Lanka’s shooter Tharjini Sivalingam, who is 2.06 metres tall. The Spar Proteas squad averages 1.8m – 11cm taller than the average South African man and 22cm taller than the average woman.

Being tall is especially important for players in scoring and goalkeeping positions. In positions where speed and agility matter, such as centres or wing attacks, players are often shorter.

Goal shooter Ine-Marie Venter is South Africa’s tallest player at 1.92m, and captain Bongi Msomi, who plays centre, is the shortest at 1.66m.

World Cup teams

The Netball World Cup is a 16-team tournament split into four groups.

  • Pool A: Australia (world No 1), Tonga, Zimbabwe, Fiji
  • Pool B: England, Malawi, Scotland, Barbados
  • Pool C: Jamaica, South Africa, Wales, Sri Lanka
  • Pool D: New Zealand (current champions), Uganda, Trinidad and Tobago, Singapore

There are two group stages before the knockout phases, and all teams will have played at least seven matches before the end of the tournament – that’s 60 matches between them. By the end of the tournament, each team will receive a ranking from position one to 16.

The format of the competition looks like this:

First stage: Group A to D

  • The first stage of play is four round-robin pools of four teams (pools A, B, C and D), where each team plays three games – one against each of the others in the pool. Matches in this stage may end in a drawn result
  • At the end of the first stage, each team in a pool is ranked from first to fourth
  • The top three teams from pools A and B move forward to form pool F. The top three teams from pools C and D form pool G
  • The bottom team from each pool moves forward to form Pool E

Second stage: Group E to G

Matches in this stage may end in a drawn result.

Group F and G

  • The top three teams from pool A and B form group F, and the top three teams from pool C and D form group G.
  • The teams’ ranking from the pool plays determines their position in the new groups. The teams each carry forward the results from their matches in the first stage
  • In this stage, the three teams from pool A play the three teams from pool B, and the three teams from pool C play the three teams from pool D
  • Each team finishes with five match results, and the teams are then ranked from position one to six

Group E

  • The four bottom teams from the first stage form group E. Each team finishes this stage with three match results.
  • Each team plays the others in round-robin play. Based on the points and results, the teams are ranked from position one to four.

Third Stage

In this stage, no matches can be drawn.

  • The teams finishing first and second in each group go through to the top four and compete in the semifinals. This determines the teams that finish in first to fourth position.
  • This is followed by the medal matches. The winners of the semifinals meet in the finals, and the losers play for the bronze medal.
  • Teams that finish third or fourth in group F or G compete in final matches for positions five to eight.
  • Teams that finish in fifth position in Group F and G play a final match for position nine and 10.
  • Teams that finish sixth in Group F and G play a final match for 11th and 12th place.

Group E

  • Following the re-ranking of teams in Group E, the top two teams play a final match for 13th and 14th place
  • The bottom two teams play a final match for 15th and 16th place