Messy netball tour of New Zealand a warning to all sporting bodies
Jamaica's Jodi-Ann Ward (left) is overcome with joy as teammate Shimona Nelson comforts her after their convincing semi-final win against New Zealand during the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England recently. (Photo: Naphtali Junior)

It was only last month that Jamaica's national netball squad, the Sunshine Girls, triggered overwhelming pride and joy by capturing the silver medal at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England.

They actually came to within five goals of defeating mighty Australia in the gold-medal game.

Even before that grand final, the Jamaicans had covered themselves in glory in the preliminary round by beating the Australians for the first time ever.

In the build-up to the final in Birmingham, the Sunshine Girls went unbeaten. They included among the vanquished traditional powerhouses, New Zealand's Silver Ferns.

The achievement last month motivated this newspaper to hail the courage, tenacity and skill of the players and to highlight the clear need for corporate Jamaica to get behind the cash-starved national programme.

It should be borne in mind that in addition to making Jamaicans proud, that triumphant run at the Commonwealth Games served as inspiration for other under-resourced netball playing nations — including our Caribbean neighbours — in terms of what's possible, despite disadvantages.

Against that backdrop, we join in the dismay at the shambles which overshadowed Jamaica's just-ended netball tour of New Zealand.

We are told that most of those who were part of the Commonwealth Games squad declined the opportunity to tour New Zealand because of fatigue, injuries and other issues.

Then, five players selected for the tour found themselves unable to make the trip because they lacked visas needed to travel through the United States.

Left with just the minimum seven players required for a netball team and with contractual commitments to meet, Netball Jamaica resorted to using former players, including Coach Ms Connie Francis, to make up a roster, thereby ensuring Test match status for the series.

Ms Francis retired from competitive netball 20 years ago.

Also called on to fly from neighbouring Australia to make up numbers were former Jamaica internationals Ms Carla Borrego and the acclaimed Ms Romelda Aiken. The latter gave birth a month ago.

In the circumstances, one of three scheduled Tests had to be cancelled and the other two ended, unsurprisingly, in heavy defeats for the Jamaicans.

In its defence, Netball Jamaica says there was not enough time to acquire United States visas for the five players left behind. It said efforts to get the players to New Zealand using other routes fell through. We note that Netball Jamaica has said the agreement to tour New Zealand was only finalised in June of this year.

We suspect though, that a planned, far-seeing, professional approach could have prevented this extremely embarrassing situation.

To begin with, Jamaicans know from long, hard experience that acquiring a US visa is often problematic and time-consuming. Given that situation, shouldn't the governing body for netball, and indeed all sporting associations, ensure that there is always a large enough pool of players equipped with the relevant travel documents to allow quick, easy response to a national call?

It seems to us that this chastening experience for Netball Jamaica should serve as a warning to all.

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