GOLD COAST, Australia (Reuters) - Helen Housby held her nerve in the final second to score the winning goal as England upset the heavily favoured Australians 52-51 and clinch a dramatic gold medal at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games on Sunday.
England, who had never been in a Commonwealth Games final before, only sneaked into the gold-medal decider at Coomera Indoor Centre when Jo Harten sank the winning goal with two seconds remaining in their semi-final with Jamaica on Saturday.
The Jamaicans won bronze earlier on Sunday when they beat two-time champions New Zealand 60-55 in a pulsating final day of competition that typified the entire tournament.
The sport was one of the most heavily supported at the Games with dads bringing daughters, wives bringing husbands and green and gold wig-wearing grandparents creating a cacophonous wall of fever-pitched noise for every match.
That exposure is one that Clare Briegal, the chief executive of the International Netball Federation (INF), hopes to capitalise on.
Despite the sport’s fanatical interest, it has not transferred itself into the valuable media and television coverage or global corporate sponsorship her organisation needs to grow the game.
“We sell lots of tickets and we get a lot of revenue from merchandising,” Briegal told Reuters in an interview before the final. “Women like to buy things related to netball.
“The big thing is the sponsorship and the media coverage.”
Briegal has been chief executive of the INF since 2013 after transferring into sports administration from a career in marketing.
The total budget to run the INF, with a central staff of seven and development officers around the world is about $854,400.
The sport’s World Cup, the next edition of which is in England next year, provides the bulk of the funding for the organisation.
“We operate on a complete fraction of what the other sports do,” she said. “It’s about doing what we can with what we have.
“But we could do with more,” she added with a laugh.
Local commercial relationships were strong in the traditional powerhouses like Australia and New Zealand but Briegal said for the game to grow they needed a global sponsor.
“We want a global brand that has major reach,” she said. “The brands need to be bolder. They’re not bold at the moment. They are talking about it, but where are the actions?”
A global reach allowed for more money to be pumped into development programmes in areas not traditionally associated with netball, like one in Argentina to spread the game in South America.
Briegal said the sport had Olympic ambitions and growing the game outside its traditional markets would help it meet the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) requirements for universality for a sport to be admitted to the programme.
The most powerful netball nations in the world are all former Commonwealth countries. The top-12 ranked sides in the world all played at the Gold Coast.
While netball at the elite international level is also predominantly a female game, the IOC’s requirement did not mean the organisation had to develop equal competitions for men and women, she said.
“Our strength is that we are predominantly a female game,” she said. “We do have a strong relationship with the Commonwealth Games Federation and the IOC because we offer a unique proposition.
“We also provide the opportunity to even up the medals.
“That’s the way the IOC talks to us as well. It’s not that every sport has an even amount of medals, it’s about the whole of sport across the games having that opportunity.”
The development of more competitive teams around the world would also help, with the performances of Uganda and Malawi, who upset world number two New Zealand in pool play, showing the strength in sub-Saharan Africa.
“We have got the potential athletes,” she said.
“But what we need is the ongoing investment.
“If we had the same level of investment in Africa as they get in Australia, we’d have an African winner.
“The competition has got closer. We used to speak about a big two (Australia and New Zealand). Now it’s a big four (including Jamaica and England).
“And the other countries are snapping at their heels.”
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Amaln Chakraborty