'Upside down'

'Upside down'

COVID-19 has 'turned everything upside down', laments AFNA's Bernard

Senior staff reporter

Sunday, May 24, 2020

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THE health risk posed by the novel coronavirus has negatively impacted sporting organisations, testing their mettle in the planning of development programmes, says Marva Bernard, head of the region's netball.

Bernard, president of Americas Federation of Netball Associations (AFNA), which governs countries from the Caribbean, as well as South, Central and North America, stressed that a target area is to increase the number of internationally-rated umpires.

AFNA was forced to postpone an umpires' academy due to the pandemic, and Bernard has insisted that, given the importance of developing match officials, new dates will be confirmed as soon as the association gets the health safety clearance to proceed.

“Everything has been turned upside down, [but] we are intent on having an umpires' academy… it is going to remain on the table,” she told the Jamaica Observer on Friday, noting that Trinidad was originally earmarked to host the training in July.

She said the AFNA region, which boasts some of the globe's top netball nations, has a relatively small cadre of International Umpires Awards (IUA) and a lone immediate prospect as an International Talent Identified Umpire (ITID).

“We are very concerned as an executive body of the numbers that we have for international umpires; [it] is low. We only have seven International Umpires Awards. We have only one International Talent Identified Umpire — a person from Barbados. And we have countries in the top ten in the world,” Bernard, a former president of Netball Jamaica, said.

Jamaica's senior team is ranked fourth in world netball, ahead of Trinidad and Tobago (10th) and Barbados (12th).

“To only have one umpire who is on the verge of becoming an international umpire is cause for concern. The executive of AFNA is looking to ensure that we can improve. That is what the academy was going to do: identify umpires who can be fast-tracked to be become an ITID.

“The last time we had three new umpires going into the pool was in August 2018. We can't continue with seven only — they have served us well and some of them are probably looking to retire in another year or two,” she explained.

Looking at other development areas, Bernard said there has been a scheduling casualty: AFNA was forced to cancel the third annual staging of the regional high schools' netball championship in July in Tobago, the smaller of the twin island state.

Also in July, AFNA was set to stage the region's qualifying tournament for the 2021 Netball Youth World Cup, but with guidance from International Netball Federation (INF), the sport's governing body, that event has been pushed back to October.

Bernard said that even with that postponement, member nations during a recent virtual meeting, unanimously agreed it is unlikely that the qualifiers, which is to involve nine countries, can be hosted in October.

“Everybody felt that keeping the qualifiers this year in October is very risky. We didn't see how it was possible to get funding from sponsors, [to get] the governments' [go-ahead], and with quarantine issues and all the issues around getting back to sports,” the Jamaican veteran netball administrator told the Observer.

Bernard said that the majority of members have stated that senior team rankings of the nine countries which had committed to the qualifiers should be used as the determinant.

The qualifiers are to decide three of the region's four participants at the Youth World Cup. The Jamaica team was handed an automatic spot.

Under the qualification rules, the top-four finishers from the previous tournament automatically qualify, and Jamaica, though finishing fifth, gained a bly because fourth-placed Fiji, as hosts, are compulsory participants.

The draw for the Netball Youth World Cup is set for November this year, while the tournament is scheduled to be held in the summer of 2021.

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