Netball to have new national league

By Michael Uugwanga

AMATEUR sport could soon become something of the past in Namibia, after the Ministry of Sport, Youth and National Service put a plan in place to professionalise sport codes as stipulated in the current National Development Plan (NDP5), which calls for the professionalization of sport and employment creation through sport.

Sport plays a vital role in any country, as it is seen as a tool to unite communities, create job opportunities and can be a major contributor to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of countries that have professional sport industries.

Sport in the United Kingdom alone contributes about 39 billion British pounds a year (about N$800 billion) to the national economy, with a significant portion coming from grassroots sport through athletes buying trainers, bikes, gym membership and pay match fees, among many other money-spinners.

According to South African department of Sports and recreation in 2009 sporting activities contributed about 2.1 percent to the country’s GDP-that’s about R41-billion (N-billion).

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In Namibia, professionalising sport will still remain a big challenge as sport has never been a government priority in terms of funding, with the trend expected to continue due to the economic impact of Covid-19 and a further shift in resources to cope with the pandemic, that has seemingly led to a further drop in funding to the Ministry of Sport, Youth and National Service.

Sharing information on how government intends to help professionalise sport, acting executive director in the Sport Ministry Edelberth Sivhute Katamba said the push to professionalise local sport dates back to 2018 and the categorisation of sport codes, with football, rugby and netball being categorised as priority sport codes.

“These [plans] appear in NDP5. As a conduit for sport professionalisation, the line ministry started with the categorization of sport codes in 2018. We aim to start sport professionalisation with three national sport codes and gradually move to the priority codes before coming to the development of sport codes,” said Katamba.

Netball, a sport that was once very popular, is going through a transition after many years in the wilderness, but over the past three years a lot has been achieved by Netball Namibia, in particular the women’s senior team the Desert Jewelz who won the M1 Nations Cup in Singapore last year. In 2018 they won the Debmarine Namibia Netball Pent Series on home soil.

Among the priority sport codes, netball is the only code without a national league like football, which is topped by the Namibia Premier League (NPL) while rugby has the Namibia Rugby Premier League (NRPL), with both leagues contested by various clubs from different regions.

Currently, Khomas Netball League remains the top regional league while at the coast there is the Erongo Netball League, the two Kavango regions (East and West) also have leagues and Omaheke (in particular Gobabis) also has a netball league.

Katamba said that the Sport Ministry will therefore help Netball Namibia set up a similar league structure for its own premier league.

“When you look at the three national sport codes, netball is the only sport code which is not having a professional league. Henceforth, the ministry intends to start with netball, once the Covid-19 measures [are eased].

“The ministry will be guiding Netball Namibia with the professionalisation process. In this regard, the ministry is securing partners and will discuss our plans once Covid-19 restrictions are lifted,” said Katamba.

Asked why government only emphasised professionalising sport now and not in the past, Katamba said the plan was crafted already in 2015-2016. He also acknowledged that sport has over the years often been overlooked when it comes to government funding, compared to other sectors such as education, health and defence, despite top achievements by athletes globally.

“Sport will not only impact the youth alone, but will spill over to other sectors, such as those in accommodation provision, sport attire production and construction of sport facilities and transportation industry,” he said.

“The impact of sport toward national development is still much underrated in the country.

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As young people are slowly entering positions of power, the sport concept is also becoming part of the regional and national agenda. This is a wind of change for sport and the line ministry is grateful for this development and intends to capitalise on it.”