Netball is dominating women’s team sports globally, with over 20 million people playing in more than 80 countries. Following the recent formation of the UAE Netball Association (UAENA), the UAE’s young women will for the first time ever have the opportunity to participate on the world netball stage, with two teams competing in the Netball Europe Championships in 2018.
Netball has been increasing in popularity in the UAE, both at school and in amateur leagues, with over 1,000 people playing every week. However, until now there has been no formal recognition of the sport at a country level.
Nearly three years in the making, UAENA has now received official sanction, and will fall under the umbrella of the UAE Basketball Association. Chaired by Dr Omar Shams (who is no stranger to competitive sport as father of the leading Emirati rugby player Sophie Shams!), the Advisory Board includes key players in the UAE netball arena.
A huge step for UAENA recently was becoming an official member of Netball Europe, which gives UAE players a permanent place against international competition.
UAENA will be sending an U17 team and an Open team to the 2018 Netball Europe Championships (taking place in March and May respectively), where they will be playing against the best in Europe, including England, Ireland and Scotland. The Open squad will also be competing for a world ranking.
At present, netball is predominantly played by expats, but UAENA is hoping that with the support of the Government, the number of Emirati women participating will increase significantly.
A specific Emiratisation programme is being launched in order to move this forward, which will involve a number of different initiatives over the next few years, including: UAENA reps going in to Emirati schools to give a practical introduction to netball, and providing these schools with hoops and balls; possible joint events with UAE women’s football and rugby, as they already have Emirati players/teams; and helping Emirati schools to begin joining the existing competitions. In the much longer term (10 years) it is hoped that the UAE will host the Netball European Championships.
Netball is an excellent way of getting exercise, whilst also having huge social benefits. The formation of UAENA is perfectly timed – with a huge focus on healthy living at present via Dubai’s 30-day Fitness Challenge.
UAENA is operating on an entirely voluntary basis, with everyone involved giving their time for free. The association will be working in the next months to secure funding to enable the Emiratisation coaching programme, as well as training equipment and kit.
Chair of the UAENA Advisory Board, Dr Omar Shams said, “I am delighted that the hard work over the last few years to get UAENA up and running has paid off, and that we now have official recognition for this exciting sport. Being granted membership of Netball Europe is a huge step forward and we are excited that the UAE will be making its debut next year in the Netball Europe championships. Our job now is to secure the long term future of the sport, and to get more Emirati girls and women involved in the game.”
Netball Europe Chair Lyn Carpenter added, “Netball has taken huge strides as a globally recognised sport and it’s great to see countries like the UAE, where netball hasn’t always been a part of the core curriculum, seizing this opportunity. We look forward to seeing the two UAE teams playing in our Championship next year.”
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