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Commonwealth Games 2022 ‘critical’ for netball in Scotland

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Netball Scotland chief executive Claire Nelson believes the Commonwealth Games will be a catalyst for continuing growth in the sport north of the border.

The netball tournament starts on July 29 with the Scottish Thistles’ first game coming the following day against the Australian Diamonds, ranked number one in the world and the 2018 Commonwealth Games runners-up.

Jamaica, South Africa, Wales and Barbados are also in Group A and Nelson believes the exposure given to the matches can further energise the sport in Scotland.

Nelson, who is also CEO of Strathclyde Sirens, Scotland’s only professional netball team, told the PA news agency about the importance of Birmingham.

She said: “Multi-sport games are so critical for ‘minority sports’ because it allows people to consume sport that maybe they haven’t seen before or they have not seen live.

“If you reflect on that gold-medal winning match for England, by one goal in the dying seconds in the Gold Coast Games in 2018 which became BBC Sports Personality Greatest Sporting Moment of the Year – it is an exciting and fast game.

“And so for us to get exposure like that of what our sport looks like live, it feeds into everything we are doing, our desire to host more international events and also the Sirens and what that the Superleague season looks like.

“We want people, men, women, boys, girls, however you identify, to back netball, not because it is a women’s sport, because it is an exciting, live experience, indoor and affordable.

“So getting a 10-day competition with every single game being covered is a really critical opportunity and we will look to leverage that the best we can, not just for visibility and fans but also for people wanting to participate.

“We have programmes for everyone of all ages. There has never been more opportunity to play, engage, watch, enjoy and experience our sport. This visibility is absolutely critical and we are going to make the most of it.”

Scotland first fielded a netball team in the Commonwealth Games in 2014 in Glasgow and Nelson, driven and enthusiastic, is confident that all the right pieces are in place to make a mark in this competition.

She described the 2014 event as a “game changer” and added: “Getting that exposure allowed us to invest into the performance pathway, bring on new coaches and professionalise the programme.

“In 2014 and 2018, we have never quite finished where we would have liked to in a Games so post-2019 we made some changes. We brought in Karen Atkinson as our performance director, we recruited Tamsin Greenway as our national coach and she in turn recruited Sara Francis-Bayman as assistant coach.

“They are three of the most successful, most respected and most brilliant coaches in world netball. They have won medals as athletes with England, they have won Superleagues, they have coached teams to win.

“They have created a programme to allow Scotland to perform on the world stage.

“Of course the pandemic has bit and so we had two years without match play. On the whole these guys haven’t had the chance to test themselves but when I look at the players we have, the system we have, and the coaches we have I am really excited to see how this team is going to perform in Birmingham.

“We have a lot of hard work ahead, they are going up against the best so it is not going to be easy but I have real confidence in my coaches and players.”

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