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Netball Moving to Expand Uni Options Beyond Dresses

[Editor’s Note: Our own Jamie Rathjen is going to fill us in on the latest uni developments in the sport of netball, which is particularly popular in Australia. Enjoy. — PL]

Netball — primarily a Commonwealth sport, played exclusively by women at the pro level and derived from basketball — has a traditional uniform of a very short dress. That might work for professional athletes, but not for everyone who wants to play the sport. Multiple recent studies and reports in recent years — primarily from Australia, where netball is the top women’s sport in terms of grassroots participation — have found that the uniform is a turn-off for many potential players, for reasons that include concerns about body image and comfort. So netball has been on a serious quest for more inclusive uniforms.

One step in a more inclusive direction was taken at the preseason tournament for Australia’s top league, Super Netball, over the weekend of Feb. 25-26. After Netball Australia’s uniform guidelines were updated in December, effective Jan. 1, to allow different types of gear and accessories, at least three teams — the Adelaide Thunderbids, Queensland Firebirds, and Sunshine Coast Lightning — allowed players to experiment with different legwear, including shorts, skorts, and leggings. (The Lightning are pictured at the top of this article, playing against Collingwood.) The rules allow even more options, including bodysuits, short- and long-sleeved T-shirts, and long tracksuit pants, as well as head coverings for religious reasons. The sport is also commonly played outdoors at the non-professional level in Australia, so the guidelines ideally cover all weather conditions.

At the tournament, the substitute legwear was black instead of matching the team’s colors but didn’t look like a stand-in or temporary; it often included team logos and players’ unofficial numbers. Black would go well with all the SN teams but seems to contradict the uniform guidelines, which appear to be saying that all parts must be the same color. It might look different for SN’s regular season, which starts March 18.

Of course, this change also leads to teams not looking completely uniform, but in this case I would say comfort is more important. Women’s sports also prize visibility, both of their own product and the diversity of the players that produce it. So I can imagine that shorts and leggings visible on the court and on TV will only be a positive development.

Comments (13)

    And it’s cool to see what folks come up with when not restricted by said tradition. It seems like they asked themselves “What actually makes sense for everybody?” (and every body)

    Wow, I had never heard of netball before. Having read a quick summary of it I am very intrigued. The passing only movement of the ball sounds incredibly interesting, the strategies and plays used to get the players open would be fun to watch.

    Also, just in case you were wondering, the men’s team is wearing shorts :

    You can see they use velcro to switch ‘bibs’. Those bibs are indeed position specific and the players swap the when substituting. Probably basic knowledge for fans of the sports, but I found it interesting.

    I watched a segment on a British series called QI, and the discussion centered on the fact that the people who codified the rules of netball were watching a game of basketball and misinterpreted what the various players were doing, so they wrote rules for each position and where they could move on the court.

    Yeah, numbers are not mentioned in the rules, only position bibs are. But some teams wear numbers unofficially.

    You’re right, there are men’s teams, just not pro-level (yet), and yes, they tend to (reasonably) wear sleeveless shirts and shorts.

    Really nice writeup, Jamie! I always appreciate your insights on so many uni-topics that are too often obscure to the American mainstream.

    I’ve watched some netball on YouTube. It’s interesting but didn’t really capture my attention the way Team Handball does every four years.

    Seems like you just put the tallest person by the net and they make easy baskets.

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