South African netballers lacked backing to match Rugby World Cup glory, says Bongi Msomi

  • By Robin-Duke Madlala
  • Sports writer, South Africa

25 minutes ago

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption,

South Africa finished sixth at the 2023 Netball World Cup, which was held on home soil in Cape Town

Netball legend Bongi Msomi says South Africa could have challenged for two World Cup trophies in 2023 if her team had been “looked after” in the same way as the country’s male rugby players.

South Africa followed up a semi-final appearance in 2019 by finishing sixth as hosts of the Netball World Cup in August, less than three months before their compatriots won the Rugby World Cup for a fourth time.

Msomi told BBC Sport Africa the Springboks can compete with any team because of the level of backing they receive compared to the country’s netballers, and urged sponsors to become involved with the side.

“Help is there and is getting better,” the 35-year-old, the record caps holder for the Proteas, said.

“But there are things we can’t demand yet. If it comes, it’s a bonus.”

Netball is not professionally run in South Africa and Msomi wants corporate support to help the game in the country catch up with nations such as World Cup winners Australia, whose Super Netball League is professional.

“To win the World Cup takes years of processing,” said Msomi, who retired on 15 December and called herself “lucky” to have played at four World Cups, including two as captain.

“It’s not like you can pick a team now and you are going to win. It takes so much time.

“The more the team changes, which is what is happening with the Proteas, the more disadvantaged you are because it means you must start from scratch with all the connections and combinations.

“In 2019, the team that we had changed almost completely to the team that we have this year.

“Certain players will stop and some get injuries. All of that is a disadvantage for us.”

While the Springboks spent months preparing for the Rugby World Cup, a lack of time to prepare was one of the issues that worked against coach Norma Plummer’s netball squad in Cape Town.

South Africa’s semi-professional Netball League launched in 2014 and expanded to 12 teams in 2020.

Msomi, who was part of a minority of the South Africa squad to play in the country’s domestic competition, was encouraged by a stunning late comeback to draw 48-48 against a better-resourced New Zealand squad at the World Cup.

But the 171-cap centre or wing attack saw the inconsistency in South Africa’s 67-49 defeat by Jamaica, a side who were closer to them in the rankings, as a product of the level of the domestic game.

“It shows there is a lack of professionalism that in one game – a big game like that – you can get a draw, and against Jamaica you lose by about 20 goals because the standards of competition at that level are something that we don’t have,” she said.

“You can’t keep up because you don’t have a professional league to constantly perform at that level.”

‘Opening doors’ for the next generation

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption,

Bongi Msomi joined the Proteas in 2011 and assumed the captaincy in 2016

Msomi is one of the most high-profile South African sports stars to be managed by American rapper Jay-Z’s Roc Nation Sports, which also has rugby players Siya Kolisi, Cheslin Kolbe and Tendai Mtawarira and cricketers Temba Bavuma and Lungi Ngidi on its roster.

Now retired, she can commit more time to initiatives to drive sports development and acting as an ambassador for projects to involve communities in netball and other sports.

“For sport to continue in [rural] places, it must have facilities and coaches,” she said, discussing the potential provided by a sports court she helped to open in her township in KwaZulu-Natal.

“I started playing netball at school and I found a teacher who was dedicated to me becoming a professional.

“The teacher showed me the skills. Even after school, the teacher would ensure that I caught up on things I didn’t know. Today, that teacher is proud of me.

“I know places like this in school – I know what it can produce, and I can’t wait to see one day the child trained from this court – who came from this project – play national netball.

“It may sound like a dream now. I always say everything that I have achieved alone through this sport is opening doors for so many players behind me. It is something that I never thought about because [I thought] that is for famous people.”

Msomi has praised veteran coach Plummer, who first led South Africa between 2015 and 2019 before returning to the role in 2022, as “an inspiration” and a “great influence” in South Africa.

Netball South Africa president Cecilia Molokwane suggested that Msomi could remain involved in the national set-up when her retirement was announced.

The former Adelaide Thunderbirds and Surrey Storm player has already gained coaching experience at the University of Johannesburg.

“She might be done playing but the door is open for her here,” said Molokwane. “This is home for her.”