T-shirts, leggings and skorts provide a glimpse of a truly inclusive future for netball | netball

Start a netball conversation anywhere and the anecdotes will start flowing.

My daughter dropped out when she was 13 because she was too self-conscious.

I wanted to go back after having a baby, but the thought of having to wear a dress at 42 was too daunting, so I never did.

The association’s rules were so strict that they even dictated the color of underwear we had to wear under our skirts!

As a young woman coming to grips with my sexuality and how I wanted to present myself to the world, women’s skirts really baffled me.

The dresses and skirts traditionally worn by netball players and the strict rules surrounding them have been the sartorial elephant in the room for Australia’s number one women’s team sport for decades; the reason cited more than any other for dropout at all levels.

Anecdotal evidence, industry reports – such as Netball Australia’s State of the Game 2020 – and academic research – such as Victoria University’s 2021 What Girls Want in Sport Uniforms study – have shown that uniform anxiety forces many women and girls to move away from netball.

The reasons may be personal or religious, but either way they are powerful and have proven to be a brake on the game’s growth, as well as an unfair way of labeling netball as old-fashioned and overly feminised. .

That’s why the decision by three elite teams to wear “inclusive” uniforms during pre-season competition on the Gold Coast at the weekend – following a change by the game’s governing body to update uniform rules last year – is So important.

It’s the moment when netball said, “This is a sport for everyone.”

While different state and territory associations and local competitions across the country have eased uniform requirements over time – most social netball leagues abandoned skirts years ago – this has been done on a case-by-case basis. Internationally, several nations now offer culturally appropriate uniforms.

But in adopting a new national policy last year, Netball Australia chose to lead, albeit belatedly, from the top to “recognise the various individual preferences and religious beliefs of netball players”.

The new rules outline recommendations for players and referees of all levels and offer “the option to choose between a combination of uniform variations”, taking into account that the game is predominantly played outdoors, in winter, in the youth and youth categories. by people from all walks of life.

Australian international and Sunshine Coast Lightning star Cara Koenen in action during the Team Girls Cup. Photography: Matt Roberts/Getty Images

At this weekend’s Team Girls Cup, Super Netball’s official pre-season tournament, that policy came into play, with the Queensland Firebirds, Sunshine Coast Lightning and Adelaide Thunderbirds giving players the choice of what to wear to each game.

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It included various T-shirts, shorts, long- and short-sleeved T-shirts, leggings, and skorts in addition to the traditional game dress.

In what was a shocking sight to some traditionalists, who commented that they felt as if they were watching a training run, the players on court weren’t really “in uniform” – in identical clothing – for once.

But they were comfortable and role models for girls and women who have always told the sport they feel isolated by what they are required to wear to play.

Bronwyn Klei, CEO of Netball South Australia, a state with many associations that adopted inclusive uniforms before the official change, put it more simply – that clothing should not be a barrier to people “entering and thriving” in the game.

Firebirds midfielder and former Australian diamond Gabi Simpson said allowing “people to feel comfortable, wear whatever they want according to their beliefs or who they are” was very important because “netball is a space where we want people to be the freest version of themselves.” .

It is not known whether the other five Super Netball clubs will offer inclusive uniforms for the 2023 season, which starts March 18, but the league confirmed on Sunday that it will be allowed under the rules.

“Inclusive kits are permitted during the regular season and will be used at the discretion of clubs and players,” a spokesperson said.

With netball struggling to maintain its position as the premier sport for women and girls against a plethora of emerging female codes, the shift from homogeneity to inclusivity can only strengthen the future of the sport.

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