Basketball and netball join forces by forming new partnership to get back on court in Northern Ireland

Netball and basketball chiefs in Northern Ireland have stressed the importance of mental health awareness after launching a joint venture to get indoor sports back on court as soon as possible.

Given the similarity and links between the two sports, Netball NI and Basketball NI have joined forces to form a collaborative approach to support the safe return for indoor team sport by accessing appropriate forums and detailing safe practices, while also advocating for the benefits of team activity during lockdown.

While elite netball athletes are still able to compete – with six of the Northern Ireland squad featuring in the upcoming Vitality Superleague in England – the opportunities for elite basketball players are much more limited given the Irish Super League has already seen its season cancelled.

Both sports have been decimated at grassroots level, however, with players unable to participate in lower leagues or even recreationally, with many under-age programmes suspended due to the pandemic.

As well as the partnership aiming to get both sports back again, it has also come together to try and encourage more young boys and girls to take up the sports post-lockdown.

One of the other key things the partnership wants to tackle is the issue of mental health due to people not taking part in team sport and, having partnered with mental health group AWARE NI to help their members, that’s something both organisations are keen to stress.

Basketball NI coach Andy Mulholland said: “There’s a lot of fatigue starting to come in now. It’s a big issue we’re not talking about enough.

“When things start opening up again, some people aren’t going to want to join up again straight away. The mental health side of things is something we need to talk about a lot more.

“We have tried that with Basketball NI through our partnership with AWARE to engage with people as much as we can. I think we’re aware how important it is. We don’t know how to fix it yet, but we must talk about it more.”

The partnership is supported by Northern Ireland netball international Fionnuala Toner, who plays in the Superleague for Leeds Rhinos, and Emerging Warriors player Ciara Cooke, both of whom have played both netball and basketball.

The hope is that the partnership will help convince Stormont officials that indoor sports can return safely in Northern Ireland over the coming months, but there is an awareness that there won’t be an immediate solution.

Netball NI chief executive Karen Rollo explained: “We’re looking at having a collaborative approach as to how we can get our sports back safely, because we know that indoor sports will be some of the last to return given their nature.

“We’ve chatted with Ciara and Fionnuala and detailed how they’ve been able to play both sports and, ultimately, trying to raise the profile of both sports, as well as getting them back.

“From our perspective it’s about what else is there around netball, not just on the court. It’s around the other skills you develop by being in a team sport – it’s about communication, leadership, problem-solving skills.

“We’re losing those skills by not being able to meet together. Everyone can put a face on during a Zoom call and say everything’s okay, but it’s only face to face you can really tell.”

Belfast Telegraph