It's the one sport with 98% female participation, where women are indisputably better than men. Why, then, when we're all out fighting for equality, do so many women roll their eyes and openly make fun of netballers?
Netball has been trending twice on Twitter in the last seven days, and for very different reasons. #BBCNetball hit the top spot over the weekend when the England national team took on world number one Australia (excruciatingly, losing by a single goal). The match was broadcast on BBC2 and Sky Sports at 1pm on a Sunday, a prime spot which saw sports fans turn their backs on the Six Nations and Premier League to watch 14 elite athletes take to the court in a game that looked a tad different to what went down in Year Nine.
The second time was with #NetballOnTheRise, which surfaced in response to a post on The Guardian website branding the sport "uncool". What we may have experienced at school in the '90s (freezing concrete courts, chest pass to the face, that scary defender from the rival school) is not what defines the sport today. Last time I looked, netball in 2017 was a seamless formula of agility, accuracy, sweat and a whole lot of female power.
All this furore stemmed from Sport England announcing its latest funding, of which netball takes a hefty £16.9 million chunk (one of the most significant amounts), to encourage more women to take up the sport. 2014 was the last time funding was announced, and in those three years we've seen the sport go fully professional, with Sky Sports signing a deal to continue broadcasting, and changes to the official rules globally to reduce the level of whistle and game-stopping to make it more spectator-friendly. In fact, two years ago, international matches struggled to fill seats – now the schedule is locked into Sky Sports and selling upwards of 7,000 tickets per match across the UK with an 80% female audience.
In her response to The Guardian article, England captain Ama Agbeze wrote: "13 year old girls want to be cool, that's a fact. So what do you think printing in a national newspaper that the sport that they likely partake in is 'uncool' is doing to their confidence and self worth?"
Although I wasn't serious at school or university, I've played at the same London club for five seasons. I play three times a week: social league, club training and league matches on the weekend, covering south London and parts of Surrey and Kent. Between this, I go to HIIT classes and hot yoga – who gets to decide which of these is uncool?
Yes, netballers are competitive and we can be aggressive in a match – words often used in praise of sportsmen. It's the number one women's sport in the UK and I think that's pretty cool.