Netball Jamaica President Tricia Robinson says the regional World Cup qualifiers later this year will provide essential practice for the Sunshine Girls as they prepare for the 2023 global showpiece.
The Americas Netball championship, which is slated to be held in Jamaica from October 15-22, will determine which two teams progress to next year’s World Cup in Cape Town, South Africa.
“We will be fielding a team… to expose new players, to give our youngsters the opportunity to play against their regional counterparts,” she told the Jamaica Observer.
Jamaican supporters are hopeful for strong displays from the team at both the netball competition at the Commonwealth Games this summer in Birmingham, England, and the 2023 World Cup, after recent disappointment on the global stage.
The Sunshine Girls, who were second in the world heading into the 2019 World Cup in Liverpool, England, went on to finish fifth behind New Zealand, Australia, England and South Africa, respectively.
The Jamaican netballers, rated fourth in the world, are to gain automatic entry to next year’s World Cup because of their ranking among the top international teams.
Trinidad and Tobago, who are 10th in the rankings, and 13th-ranked Barbados are favourites to nab the two qualifying spots from the Americas, but some believe that improvements from other regional teams could lead to intense competition.
Robinson is banking on that rivalry to work in the Sunshine Girls’ favour.
“It (the qualifying tournament) is very important, and that is why, though we have already qualified, we are fielding a team,” the local netball boss said.
Top-ranked Australia; world champions New Zealand, who are rated second in the world; and third-ranked England are among the other automatic qualifiers. Hosts South Africa, who are ranked fifth globally, also earn a bye.
Jamaica last hosted the regional netball World Cup qualifiers over three decades ago. Robinson is confident that staging the event will be a success despite the shadow of the novel coronavirus.
“We have a local organising committee that’s handling that [hosting of the qualifiers]. They have started the groundwork so there is adequate time for preparation. It should be a good competition,” she said.
Last October, Jamaica welcomed Trinidad and Tobago in a bilateral series – which the hosts swept 3-0 – but it would have been a tri-nation competition if not for South Africa’s late withdrawal due to health concerns linked to the pandemic.
The Netball Jamaica president noted that staging a major tournament is a boost for the sport’s profile in the country from both local and global perspectives.
“This year the countries from the Americas will be here, and we are looking to bring other teams here. It’s important for us to bring international competition on local soil. I don’t think we did so bad hosting Trinidad last year. It ought to have been Trinidad and South Africa but, again, it’s a pandemic,” she told the Observer.