Critical on-court issues cause chaos as Super Netball again chases its tail

·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Graham Denholm/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Graham Denholm/Getty Images

After a series of off-court issues plagued Australian netball throughout 2022, executives must have breathed a sigh of relief when everything appeared to run smoothly into the start of the 2023 Super Netball season – only for critical on-court issues to hit in round two.

When the lights went out at Netball SA Stadium during half-time of the match between the Adelaide Thunderbirds and NSW Swifts on Saturday night, it was particularly notable for two reasons. It was the second delay to this particular match, after it had been pushed back an hour due to the decals on the court being deemed unsafe, and it was not the first sporting event to be struck by a power outage this weekend.

Related: Result to stand as Netball Australia investigates umpiring error in chaotic ending

On Friday night, the men’s AFL match between Brisbane and Melbourne was delayed for over 30 minutes due to a power outage at the Gabba. But there was a difference – while the AFL players returned to the field to complete their match, the netballers were forced to abandon their game, which was declared a draw.

Denying an opportunity for a result could have serious ramifications on both teams’ finals hopes. But the move, based on a little-known rule regarding a 120-minute window in which games must be completed, also called processes and procedures into question.

“Earlier today we had to delay the match within the match session time window,” Netball Australia head of integrity Nicole Malcher said during an interview with Fox Sports. “We extended it to allow us to complete the match within 120 minutes. Because we’ve extended it into that time, we don’t have enough time to complete it within the session time window so we do have to declare the match at half-time [and] both teams will have two points for tonight’s game.”

It is a series of unfortunate events, the likes of which we may never see again, but it still bears scrutiny. An analysis in the US last year found that power outages from severe weather had doubled over the past two decades, suggesting that this uncommon event may become more frequent.

Considering these events, is a 120-minute window to complete a match reasonable? Netball matches are 60 minutes in length, with four-minute breaks at quarter-time and three-quarter-time and a 12-minute break at half-time. Each team is also allowed two 90-second tactical time-outs a half. This already amounts to 92 minutes without taking into account any injuries or extra time. It would not take a particularly long delay to push a match outside of that window and cause it to be abandoned.

The delay for the decals alone would have taken the match length to at least 152 minutes, which already calls the process into question, as the match was allowed to begin despite this information being known. In a statement issued on Sunday, Netball Australia said they are conducting reviews into the situation and could not comment on the specifics until these have been completed.

Coach Nicole Richardson after the Magpies’ controversial defeat to the Vixens.
Coach Nicole Richardson after the Magpies’ controversial defeat to the Vixens. Photograph: James Ross/AAP

Meanwhile, the Melbourne derby between the Vixens and Magpies on Sunday afternoon ended in thrilling fashion, with Vixens’ goal shooter Mwai Kumenda sealing a one-goal win with a super shot from a penalty after the final whistle. However, as the dust settled, Magpies coach Nicole Richardson’s frustration was evident, after the Vixens had taken two centre passes in a row with less than two minutes remaining on the clock.

According to the rules of netball, the technical officials on the bench are required to intervene if an umpire mistakenly awards a centre pass. This is an established process, however in the heat of the moment in a close match, it did not hold up under pressure.

These two contrasting, yet equally critical, situations provide Netball Australia with an opportunity to conduct a sweeping review of Super Netball rules and match conditions, and attempt to get out ahead of issues like these before they arise. Putting scrutiny on their own rules and regulations to ensure they are reasonable and stand up to pressure will go a long way to ensuring similarly farcical endings to matches do not play out in the future.

Waiting for situations to arise before acting will see the sport continue to chase its tail. In 2019, the lack of a match review process was harshly exposed, prompting a conversation that still circulates today.These most recent issues are destined to follow a similar path unless quick action is taken.

Nothing guarantees netball will not be caught out again, even with a robust review in place. However, failing to even attempt to foresee future crises will further mar the reputation and professionalism of the sport. Getting out ahead of a crisis and planning for mitigating as many risks as possible could prove the difference between a team lifting the trophy at the end of the season and failing to make finals. Or the difference between matches being covered in the media as an exciting, athletic contest and the focus being on the lack of robust procedures.