Tue, 24 Sep 2019

Cape Town - They looked on as the South African men's cricket and football sides bombed out of the 2019 World Cup and AFCON, respectively, and now the Proteas netballers are writing their own history in Liverpool.

For the first time since 1995, South Africa will compete in the semi-finals of a Netball World Cup.

That much was confirmed on Tuesday night with a 67-40 win over Uganda - the Proteas' fourth straight win of the tournament.

Far away from the glitz, glamour and financial security that comes with being a professional soccer, rugby or cricket player in this country, this group of 12 women is on a mission.

"We said to them before they left that they were the group to change the face of netball," Netball SA president Cecilia Molokwane told Sport24 from her Liverpool hotel on Thursday.

"They were the group that was going to make the media start talking about them. They were the group that was going to make headlines. It was only in their hands, and I think are achieving that.

"We don't get the same coverage as Bafana Bafana, rugby, cricket or anything else. But now I think people at home are realising that it's time netball is covered the way it should be and that the girls are incentivised the way they should be."

Eight of the squad of 12 play their netball overseas and are paid well for doing so, but four of the players - Zanele Vimbela, Izette Griesel, Khanyisa Chawane and Renske Stoltz - are based in South Africa, where netball is not a professional sport, and must find other ways to supplement their income.

"It is hard for them to train because their focus is on work and putting food on the table," Molokwane said.

"Netball is seen more as a passion and a hobby, but it is something they would love to do professionally.

"They wake up in the morning and do their jobs and then train in the afternoon."

As a result of the divide between the SA and European-based players and because of other commitments, it is difficult for Netball SA to get the squad together to train and to organise matches.

The class off 2019, though, is on a path that Molokwane hopes will bring about change.

"They are breaking new ground. This is the team that we believe will bring a medal back home. It's doing what other netball teams since 1995 couldn't do," she said.

"It will make sure that people who have never followed netball now know and for people who never wanted to invest in us, this will show them that if you want a job done, send a woman.

"I think the corporate world now will believe in us."

Netball's two major sponsors in South Africa are Telkom and SPAR, and it was announced this week that Telkom will be giving R1 million to each player if the Proteas win the whole tournament and around R500 000 each for a silver.

"It's an overwhelming feeling for all of us, especially when you look at the 24-year drought that the girls have had. It's going to be big for South Africa," Molokwane added.

"They want it badly and it will change the lives of the girls and netball in the country.

"The girls never believed that a sport like netball could take them places and be a career for them and they now feel like they are being recognised for what they do."

The Proteas are next in action when they take on England on Thursday night in their final pool match of the tournament, while their semi-final against either Australia or New Zealand will take place on Saturday.

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