RINGSIDE VIEW: I mourn the death of netball in Kenya

Sunday May 12 2019

Florence Ndombi of Ulinzi Swords (with the ball) is guarded by Brenda Fassie of Kaya Tiwi Secondary School during their National League Netball League match at Technical University of Mombasa on April 29, 2019. PHOTO | KEVIN ODIT |

Florence Ndombi of Ulinzi Swords (with the ball) is guarded by Brenda Fassie of Kaya Tiwi Secondary School during their National League Netball League match at Technical University of Mombasa on April 29, 2019. PHOTO | KEVIN ODIT |  NATION MEDIA GROUP

Steve Omondi
By Steve Omondi
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I know very little about netball as a sport. I know much less about Kenyan netball. How damning a self indictment from a sports journalist!

I have to state upfront, though, that my scanty knowledge of the sport has nothing to do with the perception of netball as a ‘girly’ sport.

But then again I’m not sure I know any Kenyan journalist who can confidently give a low down of the current happenings of the sport in the country, let alone with an expert understanding of the sport.

So on Friday evening, with nothing interesting to watch on telly, in my aimless channel flipping I happened to stumble upon some netball action.

One channel was covering the live kick off of the South Africa’s women’s national netball league with a double header at the magnificent Rembrandt Hall in Pretoria.

The league’s season-opening fixture was between Kingdom Stars and Eastern Cape Aloes followed by another match between Gauteng Jaguars and Southern Stings.

The beauty about professionalism is that renders itself out so well even in a non-high-octane sport like netball. It’s all about the Swahili saying that goes Chema chajiuza, kibaya chajitembeza (loosely translated to mean something good thing sells itself, a bad thing advertises itself for sale).

Still, I’d be lying if I said that my one hour dalliance with netball was enough to convert me into the sport’s newest convert. No, that’s yet to happen.

But then I must say I was drawn in by the way the whole coverage was packaged; the pre-match, between quarters and post-match analysis, the fervent match commentary by a knowledgeable all-female commentary team, not to mention the quarter-by-quarter stats and highlights.

The entire production was flawless.

Importantly, I learnt one or two things about the game of netball, the insignificance of my discovery notwithstanding.

Like that each team fields seven players at a time and that a netball match lasts one hour broken into four quarters of 15 minutes each with the two teams swapping sides each quarter.

Just to spice up things a little bit, as part of the pre-match ritual, in the South African league each team is required to perform a two-minute choreographed routine dance. It was such a spectacle, only if the Rembrandt Hall in Pretoria had more than just a largely empty gallery on match-day one of the season.

Regardless, Netball South Africa, the body which governs the sport in the country has done very well for a domestic league which has only been around for the past five years.

Only last month, the South African netball league, unveiled Telkom as its new corporate partner and the 13-team league, which runs for the next five weeks, will now be officially known as Telkom Netball League.

My guess is that the exact figures involved in the sponsorship deal must be some serious cash, given the pledged commitment of the two entities to raise the standards of the sport in Mzansi.

Which got me thinking; when was the last time a brief clip of a netball match was aired in the sports segment during prime time news on any Kenyan national TV? Put another way, when was the last time the results of a netball match were published on any of the local dailies, even as a brief? Is the sport even played anymore in this country?

Well, your guess is as good as mine.

Little wonder then that come July, it’s South Africa – yes, and not Kenya – along with Malawi and Zimbabwe who will be representing Africa at the 2019 Netball World Cup in Liverpool, England.

The tragedy here is not that netball is long dead in Kenya, but that the sport actually died an unlamented death, was hurriedly buried in an unmarked grave and quickly forgotten.

The tragic demise of netball is similar to what has befallen many other sports in Kenya which have elected officials who sit in well-furnished secretariats, yet you never get to hear, watch or read anything about these sporting disciplines in the media.

It’s such a sad tale.

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