Crisis at Netball New Zealand demands bold action

Author
Liam Napier, NZ Herald,
Section
Netball,
Publish Date
Saturday, 28 April 2018, 11:15AM
Janine Southby and Maria Folau (Photo \ NZH)
Janine Southby and Maria Folau (Photo \ NZH)

Stuck in a delusional state of inaction for far too long, Netball New Zealand now faces its greatest test. That this comes off the court places the sport's conservative administrators firmly in the spotlight.

The time for accountability and strong leadership is well overdue.

NNZ has the chance to be bold and brave; to welcome this critical juncture and carve a new direction that creates meaningful change for the country's most popular female sport — a privileged position now under threat.

Change involves leaving niceties at the door; being open and realising robust, direct conversations must be had.

Maintaining this same stale path of being scared to embrace differences of opinion that do not necessarily align with box-ticking high performance beliefs will only allow mediocrity to prevail.

The proud Silver Ferns legacy, one significantly eroded by the Commonwealth Games nadir, rests on how far the imminent review into the sport goes.

And perhaps more importantly, whether recommendations come from an objective viewpoint.

The risk is that the review becomes a once-over-lightly, public relations exercise designed to create the perception steps have been taken — it has to be meaningful.

Clearly, a new vision is needed. And, as costly as it may be, Noeline Taurua appears the obvious place to start seeking solutions.

It is astonishing New Zealand's most successful domestic coach has twice been overlooked for the Silver Ferns head coach role.

Last time, when Janine Southby got the nod, Taurua didn't even make the shortlist, largely because she came with the promise of overhauling areas such as selection, training methods, strength and conditioning, and the failure to stand up under pressure. Hers would be a culture of ownership.

Those who appointed Southby, in part due to a backlash over the alternative — Australian Julie Fitzgerald — have long since moved on, leaving others to clean up the mess.

Then chief executive Hilary Poole, former head of high performance Steve Lancaster and a representative of the Government's Sport New Zealand, who sat on the appointment panel, have escaped responsibility for the poor decision to pass over Taurua's proven track record, a record that now includes titles in New Zealand and Australia.

Lancaster is also said to have led the embedding of a high performance strategy similar to rugby, only netball doesn't have nearly the same resources to carry this out.

The task of pushing ahead with genuine change now falls to chief executive Jennie Wyllie — yet the decision to break away from the transtasman league on her watch also needs scrutiny.

After the 21-goal hammering from Australia in the Commonwealth Games semifinal, Ferns captain Katrina Grant admitted the dearth of regular outings against Australian opposition hurt competitiveness.

Wyllie must also accept the failure to act after the Ferns lost twice to Jamaica in the Quad Series in March.

We are told netball's review will be conducted by an independent panel, with input from NNZ executives.

To achieve proper headway NNZ should be removed from the process. Failing to yet disclose the supposedly objective members of the review panel is not a good look, either.

As far as reviews go, netball could learn from rugby and league in recent times. Both are emerging out the other side.

NZ Rugby discovered during its investigation into the Chiefs' stripper scandal that in-house reviews don't cut it.

That ugly incident and botched investigation sparked the wide-reaching respect and responsibility review; a truly independent look at the national game and what needed to change.

Some eight months on, and many of those recommendations are still being implemented. NZ Law Society president Kathryn Beck and David Howman, former director general of the World Anti-Doping Agency, were among those to preside over the review.

NZ Rugby League's version of soul-searching arrived after the Kiwis' disastrous World Cup campaign that featured a loss to Tonga and the embarrassing quarterfinal exit at the hands of Fiji. Chief executive Alex Hayton and head coach David Kidwell were among casualties.

Former NNZ-turned Australian Rugby Union boss Raelene Castle and international sports barrister Tim Castle led the Kiwis' review.

Now it is netball's turn to own failures and make hard decisions.

Already, the clock is ticking. By the time review findings are announced in mid-June there will be 12 months until the World Cup in Liverpool — a limited window to transform the Ferns.

Following four defeats on the Gold Coast — Malawi, England, Australia and Jamaica — and missing a medal, Ferns players and coaches were granted two-weeks' leave but they will soon be asked to give honest feedback into the team's rapid demise.

NNZ are keen to avoid fingering a scapegoat but with a 51 per cent winning record, it seems inconceivable Southby will continue. Her assistant, Yvette McCausland-Durie is another likely casualty. Both were inexperienced promotions.

From there, the process could be expensive.

With Southby signed until 2019, NNZ may need to pay out the remainder of her contract, even if she goes on her own terms. Likewise, if NNZ decided to pursue Taurua that route would potentially involve buying out her Sunshine Coast Lightning contract that runs through to the end of the 2019 season.

No approaches have yet been made but Taurua's intimate knowledge of Australia's inner workings must further enhance appeal.

The other carrot attached to Taurua's potential promotion would be the immediate, guaranteed return of Laura Langman, a glaring absence from the Ferns' midcourt and leadership group since she left to play in Australia.

Elsewhere, coaching alternatives are in short supply.

Often in these situations, bad tends become worse.

Revelations from Jamaica this week that they were disappointed to return home without the Taini Jamison trophy they won in March is another poor look for a sport that seems in disarray.

Netball needs strong, decisive leadership now more than ever.

To date it has shown no signs of leading change and, therefore, independent advice is crucial to reviving this once-revered national team.

WatchMe

D'Arcy and Goran

D'Arcy and Goran

4PM - 7PM