NEWS that World Netball will launch an investigation into the controversy surrounding Jamaica's tour to New Zealand has been welcomed by sections of the local netball fraternity, which have described the debacle as an embarrassment to the programme.
Netball Jamaica has come under fire after availability and documentation issues resulted in only seven players making the trip to New Zealand for the series, ahead of Wednesday's opening match.
The Commonwealth Games silver medal winners suffered a heavy 45-70 defeat to the Silver Ferns, with Coach Connie Francis, who retired 20 years ago, and her former teammate Carla Borrego, along with another former Sunshine Girl Romelda Aiken, who gave birth just over a month ago, completing the roster in order to confirm Test match status for the game.
The situation has raised eyebrows throughout the netballing world, and World Netball's chief executive Claire Briegal declared that the governing body will look into the circumstances that led to the Jamaicans turning up in New Zealand with such a hamstrung unit.
"The starting point is a full investigation but now is not the time to be talking about that — our first priority is to see these matches go ahead," Briegal told New Zealand journalists.
"We will investigate the circumstances with all the relevant parties — we don't know all the facts yet."
The series was originally set to feature three games but has since been reduced to two.
"We're so sad this has happened — for both teams, all the participants of the events, the volunteers and match officials and technical officials, and especially for the fans," Briegal said.
"We all recognise the huge impact this has on all involved, including the broadcasters and sponsors and partners."
When contacted on Wednesday, Netball Jamaica President Tricia Robinson told the Observer she was unaware of any investigation.
Robinson, in a release to the media, pointed to logistical issues and explained that the unavailability of key players and visa issues for others created the challenge.
"Coming out of the intense Commonwealth Games, where the Sunshine Girls earned a historic silver medal, five players did not get medical clearance as they were either suffering from long-standing injuries that were aggravated or had sustained new injuries during the games. Consequently, only three senior players were available for the tour — Adean Thomas, Shimona Nelson and Latanya Wilson. In a two-day selection exercise, additional players were identified to complete the 12-member team," the release read.
"The team, however, required visas to travel to New Zealand and through the USA. With time running out, Netball Jamaica sought the assistance of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs through the Ministry of Sports. Thanks to this intervention, the visas to enter New Zealand were all issued by Monday, September 12, and passports and documentation were received on Friday, September 16. The visa woes were unfortunately still not over as five of the newly selected players were without US visas and there was not enough time to complete this application process. Efforts to use alternate routes did not materialise."
However, noted local coach Christopher Smart — who labelled the ordeal as an embarrassment for Jamaica's netball programme — called for serious action and is demanding that an internal investigation takes place.
"My reaction to this is a very aggressive one, to be honest, because it hurts me down to my core to see that we allowed this to happen. Personally, I don't think it should have happened. I think it's unfair to the girls, I think it's unfair to the coaching staff, and personally, I think it's unfair to Jamaica. Just to know that we finished a historic second in the Commonwealth Games and just a month after to see this — it's very disappointing," Smart told the Jamaica Observer.
"As a professional organisation, this is not something that we knew about [only] last month. It's on the calendar of events for the year so we know that the team was going to New Zealand for the series. We also knew that some people opted not to go to this series because of reasons beyond their control, so this excuse that Netball Jamaica is putting out is unacceptable for me.
"This reflects poorly, and somebody must take responsibility for this. Somebody must! It can't be something that we just sweep under the carpet. I think this needs a deep investigation and I'm so happy, on one side, that World Netball is going to investigate it and, at the same time, sad because we might get a very negative response from them. But, I also believe that Netball Jamaica needs to put together a panel of persons to investigate this and get down to the bottom of what really happened," said Smart.
The matter is said to have been drawing strong reactions from local and regional officials and is expected to be discussed at a management meeting set for this evening.