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Women's Netball Head of International Netball Federation: Don't worry about gaining Olympic status

INTERNATIONAL Netball Federation (INF) president Liz Nicholl believes her sport should stop worrying about gaining Olympic status so much and focus on issues that will benefit netball first.

By doing that she believes, netball will be more likely to meet the International Olympic Committee’s inclusion criteria anyway.

Having spent the last 20 years with UK Sport — the government’s funding agency for Olympic and Paralympic sports — Nicholl was elected to her new role at the INF’s pre-World Cup Congress in Liverpool.

Speaking to reporters on the first day of the tournament, Nicholl said: “The sport wants to achieve Olympic inclusion — we have to be realistic but it’s a good ambition to have.

“Lots of sports have that ambition but we know the reality is there is a constraint on the number of athletes the IOC would want in the athletes’ village and to contain the costs of the Games.

“We can see the IOC is looking at sports that are very attractive to young people — skateboarding, surfing, climbing, 3x3 basketball — so we can see the trend.

“My advice to the INF board is we have to keep an eye on the criteria the IOC would use: some are about smaller versions of games, some are about gender equity and some are about the number of eyes on the sport. So some of those we can do for the good of the sport anyway.

“What I would advise netball to do is concentrate on those criteria because they are important to netball, too, and not solely to the IOC.”

A former netball international for Wales, Nicholl was chief executive of the All-England Netball Association, now England Netball, before joining UK Sport and also ran the organising committee for the 1995 Netball World Championships in Birmingham.

With her experience of netball and the wider Olympic scene, Nicholl believes the sport should focus on developing Fast5, the quicker, small-sided version of the game, so it could do for netball what sevens did for rugby union in terms of Olympic inclusion.

Part of raising Fast5’s profile could be opening it up to men or allowing mixed teams — again, ideas that would make netball more attractive to the IOC.

That said, Nicholl admitted that the idea of bringing men into the sport was a “matter of debate within netball,” with some nations pushing for it now and others saying they “want to protect the uniqueness of the sport and the safe space it provides for girls to develop.”

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