The annual SPAR national netball championships gets under way at Hoy Park in Durban on Monday, with 18 teams playing in each of the senior and Under-21 divisions.
The tournament continues until Saturday August 12.
Netball South Africa (NSA) President Mimi Mthethwa-Zulu said the new format for the SPAR national championships, played on a provincial rather than a district basis, was bearing fruit.
“We introduced the new format as part of our efforts to promote high performance, and we believe that has been achieved,” she said.
“We are also making progress as far as transformation is concerned. We have asked the provinces to work towards selecting teams that reflect the demographics of their province. For instance, KwaZulu Natal is mainly black, but there is also the largest population of South African Indians in the province, so we want to see more Indians playing netball. We believe we will achieve the target we have set ourselves by 2019.”
Members of the SPAR Proteas will not be taking part. Mthethwa-Zulu said NSA had decided the Proteas should be excluded because they were leaving on August 17 for the Quad Series in Australia and New Zealand, followed by a two-Test series against Fiji.
“They played in the Brutal Fruit Netball Premier League (BFNPL) and then had an intense training camp with consulting coach Norma Plummer. We do not want to risk any injuries ahead of their tour of Australia and Fiji,” said Mthethwa-Zulu.
“Some members of the Under-21 SPAR Baby Proteas picked up injuries in the BFNPL and at the student championships and we had to go to the Netball World Youth Cup in Botswana with a weakened team. We don’t want that to happen when we are playing against Australia, New Zealand and England.”
Tournament Director Mami Diale said the absence of the Proteas would give other players the opportunity to show what they were capable of.
Mthethwa-Zulu said some players who had taken part in the BFNPL had not made themselves available for the national championships.
“We are not happy about this. We will ask them why they are not playing and if they do not have a valid reason, they will be dropped from the squad. NSA paid for them to compete in the BFNPL and we think it is essential that they should also take part in the national championships,” she said.
“It is the only tournament where they are asked to pay their own way. The players have to give something back to netball.”
Gauteng will be sending only one senior team to the tournament, and Mthethwa-Zulu said this was something that needed to be investigated.
“Gauteng includes the Jaguars, who won the BFNPL, and the Fireballs, who came third. The bulk of high performance players are in Gauteng, so we know there is a problem in the province. We will be investigating this to find out why they are sending just one team,” she said.
Western Cape are the defending senior champions. Their team is very different from the team that won last year. Several players have moved to other provinces and they have also lost players to the national team, but coach Annelie Lucas says they are confident they will be able to defend their title.
“We have good depth, and the absence of those players gives other players, who have been on the sidelines, the chance to step up. There are different dynamics in the team now, and I think we will surprise a few people.”