The biggest netball competition in the state is about to open its doors to men for the first time in its history.
Netball NSW announced that the Junior and Senior State Titles, which take place every year, will debut men's divisions in 2022.
The move, according to a statement from Netball NSW, was made to "continue expanding the game's reach beyond its traditional playing base". It was spurred by the Netball Australia-commissioned State of the Game review, which found that the sport would stand to benefit from greater inclusiveness in several areas including gender.
Southern Highlands Netball Association vice president, Cecilia Marmont, said the move was welcomed locally and would hopefully encourage further participation from men.
"If there's no pathways for people, then what's the point?" Marmont said.
"I think having a pathway to something, to a representative level, to a men's league for NSW is really important to incentivise people to say 'There's more, if you want to be better at this and push yourself, there's a pathway for you. It doesn't just end at club'."
More than just providing a pathway for future male players, Marmont said the move is symbolically significant as it demonstrates how serious Netball NSW is about including and growing the men's game.
"They're actually serious about including men, because the State Titles is a thing that the association's representative side works towards throughout the year," she said.
"The State Titles are a big deal, so I was really impressed."
Netball NSW CEO, Tain Drinkwater, said that the introduction of men's divisions would help dispel the idea that netball is a girl's game.
"It is a myth that netball is only a sport for women and young girls," Drinkwater said.
"But while it was the only team sport that gave the female demographic a fair go for a very long time, it must also be acknowledged that male participants haven't always been properly embraced.
"This is something that must change, and we are in the process of changing it with today's announcement. We want both boys and men to have aspirations to represent their state and country, and contrary to the negative narrative that's often aimed at netball there are already very well-established and respected men's competitions which run annually.
"Anything that Netball NSW can do to prepare players for these competitions in terms of pathways opportunities via the State Titles and the Summer Series is imperative for us, and overdue."
Although the SHNA does have a handful of male players, it is not yet able to put forward a potential State Titles team. The earliest they could reach that benchmark, Marmont estimated, might be five years from now.
The key, she believes, to drawing more men to the sport is to present netball as a viable option earlier, when they are school-age.
"Realistically, this is something that will have to be built up over time," Marmont said.
"We're competing with the Bowral Blacks, we're competing with league, and soccer, and these are mostly Saturday sports so there is a time commitment.
"I still feel like it's a fair ways away, but if we can introduce it to schools and change the culture and belief from there ... once it gets off the ground, then it will start to filter through and percolate."
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