AS the Sunshine Girls prepare to compete in the upcoming Netball World Cup in South Africa, it is crucial that we recognise the significance of support, both corporate and general, in propelling the team towards their ambitions.
The Sunshine Girls are the country's most successful national team and have consistently demonstrated their prowess on the court while developing young women who have gone on to both establish themselves as global icons of the sport and provide inspiration for young women here in Jamaica and across the world.
With the showpiece event just a few weeks away, they require and deserve the backing of the nation as they look to build on the historic silver medal achieved at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England in 2022, and hunt their first table-topping performance at this level.
Such a lofty ambition is certainly not beyond their reach. Jamaica is currently ranked fourth in the world behind Australia, New Zealand, and England — and despite the vast disparity in funding and support the Girls are perennial contenders and have shown repeatedly that they can beat anyone that steps on the court with them.
The Jamaicans have managed to grace the podium on three occasions at the Netball World Cup, with third-place finishes in 1991, 2003, and 2007. They also finished third at the 2002, 2014, and 2018 Commonwealth Games and have two silver (2009 and 2017) and two bronze medals (2010 and 2013) from the Fast5 Championships.
However, despite their outstanding performances the team often face financial constraints and are forced to scrape for every cent, hindering their ability to effectively prepare for competition at the highest level.
For instance, with the World Cup just over two months away Netball Jamaica is still facing a $20-million shortfall to send the team to Cape Town.
Several sponsors have thrown their support behind the team, and credit must be given to the Government which has committed $10 million towards the efforts, while Wray and Nephew, Beryllium, Seprod, and National Baking Company have all chipped in. However, a lot more is needed.
By comparison, Netball Australia, which has been plagued by financial issues of its own primarily due to the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, pulled in the equivalent of $2.5 billion in sponsorship over the last few months. The England and New Zealand programmes are also heavily supported by both government and corporate entities.
Jamaica's mark on the sport is indelible, with our players consistently ranked among the best on the planet. Goal shooter Ms Jhaniele Fowler is a superstar and is instantly recognisable wherever netball is being played, while top defender Ms Shamera Sterling is one of the most loved players on the planet, her flair and fun-loving persona presenting a perfect reflection of Jamaica's overall charm. Both are considered to be the best in their respective roles on the court.
They, along with several others, ply their trade in the top leagues in Australia and New Zealand — another example of the sport's value and the opportunities it provides for young Jamaican women.
In fact, the island has produced a long list of netball stars, including Ms Connie Francis, the current national head coach; Mses Simone Forbes, Elaine Davis, Oberon Pitterson, Romelda Aiken, Nadine Bryan, and many others.
That impact has also made its way into the corridors of world netball leadership, with Ms Molly Rhone serving as president of World Netball from 2003 to 2019. Former Netball Jamaica President Ms Marva Bernard is a director for World Netball as the head of the Americas region.
Securing substantial corporate sponsorship is vital, not only for the team's immediate assignment in South Africa but for the long-term success of the programme.
There is a need for greater attention to grass roots development, training facilities, scholarship opportunities, nutrition, and equipment sourcing. These are all areas through which private partners can demonstrate their commitment to national pride, women's sports, and the overall development of Jamaica's netball.
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