England Netball: Expanding accessibility and changing perceptions

England Netball

Times are changing for the country’s leading women’s team sport thanks to England Netball’s efforts to establish and grow disability participation figures.

Sport England’s Active Lives report revealed that while just under half a million people played netball between 2017 and 2018, only 448 of them were either deaf or disabled.

But the recent launch of England Netball’s Core Inclusion Club programme is seeking to change all that, expanding accessibility and changing perceptions in order to enhance participation.

And as the ParaNetball Championship gets underway in Nottingham, Richard Evans – England Netball’s Strategic Lead for Disability – believes the sport is setting a firm foundation.

“We’re not a traditional disability sport,” he said.

“We have a limited history with minimal numbers of players both in this country and around the world however with 1.5 million deaf and disabled women and girls under 50, we have an incredible opportunity at England Netball.

“We know there’s an appetite for disabled netball there, so it’s just a case of people haven’t been given the opportunity.

“Outside of wheelchair and visual impairment sports like, basketball, goalball and blind football, there aren’t any competitive team sports for ambulant athletes, so that’s what we’re focusing on and looking to develop.

“Netball is such a dynamic sport which is one of the beauties of it – because of the different positions there are so many different roles to be played by people with different types of impairments.

“I’m a believer that a rising tide lifts all ships when it comes to disability, so by working with other sports we’ve got a really good opportunity to change the metric.

“We’re doing our best to work together where we can and make sure we’re lifting barriers for people.”

England Netball’s drive to grow disabled participation is three-fold, comprising intellectual, sensual and physical impairment and being rolled out over a three-year period.

The organisation’s progressive initiatives have enjoyed considerable success in recent times, with over 2,500 disabled people participating in netball since April 2019 and 12 Core Inclusion Clubs – vanguard clubs with an explicit emphasis on disability – in place around the country.

And as Evans seeks to enhance that figure to between 15 and 18 over the next two years, he says he has lofty ambitions for where the sport can get to in the future.

“We’re only just starting and laying the foundations, but who knows in ten years’ time the number of players we can attract to netball,” he added.

“The sport has been so open to change and becoming more accessible, which has been super encouraging for me so far.

“My message for anyone living with a disability would be that ultimately, netball is a team sport, and if you want to play a team sport then you should know netball is here now, we’re a new sport and you can use us.

“In ten years’ time, I genuinely think we could become a sport that has 10,000 deaf and disabled people playing every year, and as soon as you get to those type of figures that level of sustainability really comes in.

“It’s less about creating a legacy, and more about normalising ParaNetball – I don’t believe the 10,000 figure by 2030 is unachievable, and we are passionate about creating, developing and offering a new sport designed specifically for people who have limited choices for team sport and at the same time creating a more inclusive game for the whole of England Netball."