Men’s and mixed netball on the rise in England amidst Olympics bid

Men’s and mixed netball in England is on the rise thanks to international tours and World Netball’s ongoing Olympics bid.

In 2019, Ryan Allan founded the England Men’s and Mixed Netball Association, EMMNA, noticing that men’s netball needed structure in order to grow and in 2023, participation is at an all time high.

The England Men’s team, the Thorns, travelled to Australia and New Zealand last year and EMMNA are now embarking on their second international tour this December.

The England men’s under-25s team, known as the Trailblazers, will compete in their first International Men’s Nations Series in Singapore, playing against Australia U23s, New Zealand U23s, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore.

Trailblazers and Surrey Hurricanes player Manish Manoj, 24, believes the Singapore tour is a perfect opportunity to continue the sport’s growth.

He said: “It is unprecedented to get men’s netball on the international stage, so we have a real opportunity to go and put England men’s netball on the map.

“This is really important for the sport and as men’s netball gains traction, more people will watch and it will have a trickle down effect and grow the game.”

Beyond raising the profile of men’s netball, the tour means a lot for the 14 travelling players, who range in age from 14-25.

Trailblazers Vice Captain and London Knights player Joe White, 22, said: “These opportunities were not even in my wildest dreams when I first started playing three years ago.”

These tours are self-funded, as is most of men’s netball globally, which is unsurprising when considering the netball landscape nationally and internationally across genders.

White said: “It’d be lovely to be in a more funded sport, but we are trailblazers by name and by design so we have to see this as an opportunity to blaze the trail for the future in terms of how we are seen and funded.”

EMMNA President Ryan Allan said: “England Netball and the Roses are still battling to get sponsorship so for us as a relatively new entity, getting sponsorship is quite a challenge.”

There was no prize money for the Australian Diamonds when they won the Netball World Cup in August this year and the Netball Super League, the UK’s elite level of the sport, is only semi-professional. 

However the NSL released a strategy to professionalise the league just this month, which is a step in the right direction.

As netball continues to grow, World Netball are hoping for a successful Olympic bid, with the sport featuring in the Commonwealth Games since 1998, but only for women.

It is a sport with a largely female representation but netball’s inclusion in the Brisbane 2032 Olympics is likely to be dependent on an increased commitment to the men’s side of the game.

Allan said: “I’d love to see it in the Olympics and I think for it to be accepted, it needs to be for both men’s and women’s.”

However he believes getting it into the Olympics would be a bonus and the journey is more important.

He said: “Whilst I think we should be doing absolutely everything we can to get it into the Olympics, if the journey raises awareness and gets more people playing the sport globally, then I think that’s still success.”

The London Knights men’s and mixed teams often train with and play against NSL teams and the England men’s team provided competition for the Roses prior to the World Cup.

Allan said: “We’d like to feel like we played a very small part in helping them win silver.”

The experience clearly benefits both teams. 

White said: “Female role models don’t just inspire other females, they also inspire males like us.

“We’ve studied how they play, and we try to emulate that in our own actions, so they’re the ones that really take us to that next level.”

As well as looking up to their female counterparts, the men will be looking to become role models themselves on their upcoming tour, taking place on 4-9 December and available to watch via stream in the UK.

Featured image credit: EMMNA

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