Netball is New Zealand’s leading women’s sport, played by women and girls of all ages – and increasingly by men and boys.
Netball is a seven-a-side game, based on running and jumping, and throwing and catching a ball. Goals are scored by throwing the ball through an elevated hoop.
Netball originated in the United States as basketball. Women’s basketball began to be played in New Zealand around 1900. There were nine in a team, playing on grass courts. Because women’s heavy clothes restricted movement, they threw the ball to one another instead of dribbling (continuously bouncing) it up the court.
Basketball associations were set up around the country from 1915. By 1935 basketball was the most popular winter sport for New Zealand girls and women.
First international games
New Zealand played its first international match in 1938, against Australia.
International rules were agreed in 1957 and applied in New Zealand from 1959. There were now seven players in a team. The first world tournament was held in London in 1963. New Zealand were runners-up to Australia, losing by one goal – a result that has been repeated many times over the years.
Basketball to netball
In 1970 the sport became known as netball in New Zealand. It was played on outdoor asphalt courts, and was becoming faster and more physical. From the early 1990s top-level netball was played on indoor courts.
From the 1980s the national netball association worked to promote the game in New Zealand – and, later, around the Pacific. In the 2000s children could play from the age of five, and there was strong Māori and Pacific Island participation. Men were also increasingly playing netball.
From the mid-1920s the main New Zealand competition was the Dominion Tournament. From 2008 to 2016 the ANZ Championship involved top players from both Australia and New Zealand. Since 2017 the ANZ Premiership has been contested by six New Zealand franchises.
The world championships (now the Netball World Cup) are held every four years, and have been dominated by New Zealand and Australia. The national team, the Silver Ferns, have been world champions five times, and were Commonwealth Games gold medallists in 2006 and 2010.
Well-known netballers have included:
- Dame Lois Muir, who was vice-captain of the national team in 1963 and its coach from 1974 to 1989
- Irene van Dyk, a South African goal shoot who moved to New Zealand in 2000 and played 145 tests for the Silver Ferns
- Ruth Aitken, who coached the Silver Ferns from 2001 to 2011
- Laura Langman, who played 163 tests for the Silver Ferns between 2005 and 2019, the first 141 in succession.