HARLOW’S golden girl, Jo Harten capped a great year by winning two awards at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards.
Former St Mark’s pupil Jo and the Commonwealth gold medal-winning squad were named both Team of the Year and creators of the Greatest Moment of the Year, provoking scenes of celebration in the aisles at Birmingham’s Resorts World Arena. The party did not last for long, though. Players were under strict instruction not to overdo the celebrations on Sunday night and, by Monday lunchtime, they were back at their training camp in Loughborough.
The Roses are preparing for the next round of fixtures in the Quad Series, which take place in January and include a rematch with their Commonwealth final opponents Australia.
These matches will form one crucial staging post in a year those in charge of the sport hope will continue to build on the momentum of the past six months. Then, next July, the Vitality Netball World Cup comes to Liverpool.
England’s captain, Ama Agbeze, tried to capture the emotion, and the challenges, brought about by the team’s recent success. “We’re ecstatic at winning this award and it’s amazing to be part of something England Netball have been trying to achieve for years”, she said.
“It’s been quite a whirlwind since the Games, with netball thrust into the spotlight in the UK, and more people taking the sport up daily. There’s still so much we have to do, especially with the World Cup next year. But thank you to the netball community, including the many new inductees – we’re grateful for the support.”
Agbeze’s remarks chime with the ambitions of the sport as a whole. Joanna Adams, the chief executive, says the strategy of England Netball is to “build a version of the game that’s right for any woman or girl”. Success on the Gold Coast and in the West Midlands has accelerated that process. England netball claim that in the three months following the Commonwealth games 130,700 women either took up the sport for the first time or sought out opportunities to play more.
“I thought we had a good chance of team of year, but it was incredible to get an award voted for by the public [the Moment of the Year],” Adams said. “The Commonwealth Games opened up the sport to a new audience and we want to keep telling that story. These awards keep it alive and that’s important.
“Higher public awareness helps to drive every one of the targets we have. It helps to drive participation and fundamentally we’re about getting women and girls to play the sport. It helps us drive sponsorship, we’ve just signed with Nike which is a massive perception change for our sport. We’ve got a quad series we need to sell, and it helps with that too.”
Adams says the Nike kit manufacturing deal in particular is transformative – “Netball is now seen as a truly athletic sport; we’ve gone from navy blue knickers to Nike” – but that to maintain the growth in 2019 the England team will have to continue to be successful.
“We talk about this all the time, continue and repeat what we’ve done”, she added. “We can’t have the gold as a one off, we have to continue to be best in the world. The Vitality Netball Superleague is really important, to keep the story alive between internationals, and there will be more investment into that over next couple of years.
“That will be where a lot of the growth will come from, and will hopefully drive more women and girls to play the sport. We can never stop doing that.”
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