By Lucy_Roberts_72

Netball’s Superleague is back and better than ever after last season was scrapped due to Covid-19. Teams have already been battling it out on the court in this current campaign, with the new team on the block, Leeds Rhinos, hoping to impress in their initial season in the league, alongside recognisable names including Manchester Thunder, Team Bath and Loughborough Lightning.

Vitality Netball Superleague / Morgan Harlow.

Vitality Netball Superleague / Morgan Harlow.

However, Saracens Mavericks are already a favourite to lift the trophy at the end of the season for their assistant coach, Camilla Buchanan. As well as telling us about how she thinks Coronavirus will affect the league this year, Buchanan also reveals what it was like making the documentary on Sky Sports about black players playing for the England netball team throughout the years, Black Roses.

This interview was held after the first round the Superleague season.

Q) What are your predictions for the Netball Superleague season?

A) Well, we’ve just come off the back of the first weekend so always hard to tell at this stage, but I mean what a weekend it was. There was opening weekend, 10 matches and there was absolutely everything on show. There were young guns coming through, there were old heads standing their ground, there were tight games when there’s one point in it, there were some underdogs coming through and showing what they’re made of. There was a new team showing what they’ve got for this season. Always difficult at this stage to give predictions. I’ve got to back my own team, Saracens Mavericks. I’d be crazy not to. We’ve managed to maintain some of the same squad for the last couple of seasons and we’ve also got some really exciting new additions to the squad, so we are in a really good place. But potentially there are probably six teams in this that could be in contention. I mean you’ve got Bath who defensively and mid-court wise are unstoppable. You’ve got defending champions (Manchester)Thunder. (Loughborough) Lightening took the scalps off Wasps at the weekend which showed that they’re here to make a stand. And then (Leeds) Rhinos are probably the underdogs as the new team, although they lost yesterday against us (Mavericks), they unfortunately lost three players to injury, but they really put their stamp on the league. But I’ve got to back my own team Saracens Mavericks.

Q) How do you think the new deal with Sky to broadcast and stream every game will help the league and the sport in general?

A) I mean it’s huge, absolutely huge this deal with Sky. Credit to everybody involved for getting that signed on the dotted line because it’s incredible that we’re able to show every single game live. It’s just unheard of. It’s something that there was a real appetite for. It was really important that players were able to get back out on the court and that there was visibility because we can’t have crowds. This new deal just means that from a spectator’s point of view, they drive our sport, they support our sport, so it has to be visible to them. So that was huge that that was an option. And, in terms of the actual sport itself to be able to have access to this. The production that went into the weekend was outstanding and it will drive the sport forward from a commercial and advertising point of view. It’s just really what this sport needs, especially in the time that we’re in. I’m really pleased that they were able to make it happen.

Q) Will this new deal attract a different type of fan, perhaps someone who wouldn’t have thought about watching netball unless it was on TV quite regularly like it is now?

A) I think that it will. After this weekend, it’s the biggest engagement I’ve ever seen in terms of a weekender. Online and YouTube hits, Sky figures, Twitter, Instagram and all social media engagement was huge. It’s really important that we keep that momentum going forward because it will open the doors to people that you wouldn’t expect to view the sport. If it’s on in your household, you’ve got people that wouldn’t potentially be watching usually. You just literally need to watch two minutes of a game and I guarantee if you’ve never watched this game before; you’ll be hooked. It’s such a spectator sport, the contests have been mouth-watering at times and I think regardless of what your background is, whether you’re into sport, whether you’re into other sports, there’s a real draw towards the sport when you get your eyes on it because it is such a great spectator sport. I do think it will open up avenues for different people, but we’ve got to keep the momentum going.

Q) How will Covid-19 restrictions impact the league this season?

A) First of all, some of the positives is that it’s at a centralised venue which from a broadcasting point of view is fantastic. It’s actually given it quite a cool, camp type feel. The fact that we were travelling up and stayed in a hotel, it gives it that really high-performance camp feeling because you’re all together in your bubble. We can’t socialise, we can’t eat breakfast together but we’re very much connected and close by, so from that point of view it’s fantastic. The schedules are a little bit tighter. Everyone is testing twice a week, there’s a very tight hold on the monitoring of it. I don’t think the socialising part is so much of a thing, these are elite athletes so there’s minimal going down to the pub after matches. It’s really shown just how resilient everybody is and everyone ultimately wants to get on with the league. Yes, there are a few apprehensions about the weekend starting but everyone just wants to get on with it now. Everyone is taking precautions and security is tight and protocols are tight which is really important. A nightmare if there are any positive results in the league. We’ve been hit already; Mavericks have been hit quite hard with Covid. We’ve had quite a few positives in our team early on. We’ve got two (players) that are coming out of isolation and going into return to play. If a player gets hit by Covid they are going to be out for a few weeks which can impact teams. If it takes teams out then logistically that’s not ideal but we’ve got weekends throughout the season we can schedule games in so hopefully there won’t be many games that are missed. But ultimately everyone has just got this die-hard, get on with it attitude and just wants to get the league out there and play in the league again. Everyone is being really careful and there is a much bigger picture, and everyone is really aware of that. We’ve got key workers within our team at Mavericks. There are key workers throughout the league, absolute heroes. And there’s also been a lot of people who have been touched by coronavirus personally, so everyone is really mindful and is working hard to look after each other. All in all, very mindful that it’s out there but just trying to just carry on and be as safe as possible.

Q) What would your advice be to people who are looking to get into netball once lockdown restrictions enable them to do so?

A) I’d say do it. It depends whether you’ve played netball before or never played before. It’s such a great sport. You don’t have to be the best player, there’s a team of seven of you, it’s a great social sport. There’s all levels to it; there’s walking netball, there’s back to netball. There’s something for everybody out there. It’s so good from a social aspect. It’s great fitness, it’s great for mental health, it’s a great confidence and self-esteem builder, a great way to get frustrations out and expend energy. It’s just a fantastic sport for anybody to play as a whole. For me, I started playing when I was about eight years old and I’ve got friends for life from the sport. Most of my biggest friendship groups are from netball. It’s such a great way to link in with people. I absolutely recommend anyone that’s thinking about it to jump on the England Netball website, have a look at your area and see what there is available to you. It’s as easy as that to find out where there is to play and then jump onboard and get yourself happy and healthy.

Q) What was the experience of making the enjoyable and eye-opening Black Roses documentary like?

A) I wanted it to be a piece that was there to celebrate such an amazing history that we have and it’s not just black history, it’s about the English history that changed because after the Windrush, that obviously changed the course of English history, so it felt really special to be able to tell that side of things and really celebrate the journey of black roses and the vibrancy around the culture. But it was also really important to tell the story, every part of it. The highs, the lows, the in-betweens. We didn’t get to tell everybody’s story, but we did speak to some key people and it was important that we got that message out there and told everyone’s story. It was really important that there was something people could take away from it. I wanted it to appeal to everybody, not just sports people which we were able to do. I just wanted it to be a good piece, informative, celebratory and ultimately, we made history. These stories haven’t been told before, so we did make history in terms of making this documentary. It’s created some really good conversations especially over the last year with racial diversity coming to the forefront. There was a lot of apprehension about how to tackle the subject and this has really opened up some conversations because you’ve been able to hear some of the stories. It’s started a conversation and it’s also started some action. England Netball have appointed a non-executive director for diversity and inclusion. The national players association are working to put policies in place hopefully for the Superleague. Hopefully, that filters down right through to grassroots level because it’s got to go all the way through.

Q) How has netball improved for black players since Jean Hornsby, the first Black Rose, was playing in the sport, and what more needs to be done?

A) Obviously, Jean was the first player and then if you look back to the Commonwealth games Gold Coast (in 2018) where we won gold, half the team were of black heritage, so it has come a long way. We don’t face the same issues as in football and it’s not as overt as that but there are, definitely from a grassroots point of view, things that need to be looked at. I think there still needs to be work to see what that looks like. I think that in today’s society, especially with netball, it’s not as overt but it can be very subtle. There has been progression. I think that the progression has not been as intentional as it could be. This last year has really shone a light on it and people are now intentionally trying to make a difference. In terms of the work that still needs to be done, diversity isn’t an issue in our sport (at player level), everyone can see that there is diversity, there is a mix of players, the visibility of players does reflect our society. For me it’s more on a board level, CEO level, those decision-making people in place that needs to reflect society a little bit more. But then also the discrimination side of things can be very subtle. If you’re looking at grassroots, making sure that from an umpiring point of view there’s not discrimination or things in place there that people are affected by. There is still work to be done. There needs to be a lot to identify where those areas are but diversity isn’t the issue, it’s more around the equality, equity and inclusion. We’ve come a long way but now the intentional work needs to start, hopefully with the appointment of the board member at England Netball, Jennifer Thomas, the new director of equality, diversity and inclusion. But it’s going to take some really honest conversations. I think we can agree that sport brings people together like nothing else in this world. Sport has this special ability to bring people together, to shine light on issues, so I think that we’ve got a real opportunity to lead the way in netball. If you watch the documentary, Eboni Usoro-Brown talks about the fact that we are lucky in terms of netball being quite diverse compared to other sports, other women’s sports in particular. We have a real opportunity to lead the way in netball and shine a light on the issues but also shine a light on the steps that we’re now taking to make it better. Already with this weekend, with every 10 games that was shown and going forward every player takes a knee for netball against racism and discrimination which is great from a visibility point of view. I think it’s just that constant reminder that there is work to be done, but we are on an amazing platform with our sport to be able to lead the way and take this opportunity to shine a light on it. It’s actually really exciting because nothing brings this world together like sport.

Every match of the Vitality Netball Superleague 2021 season will be broadcast across Sky Sports and England Netball platforms, including Sky Sports’ YouTube channel.