A program funded by AusAid aims to boost efforts by Netball Australia to boost the code's popularity.
The officials are from Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea.
Bruce Hill had a round table discussion with some of the officials about the game, and why it doesn't get enough support in the Pacific.
Presenter: Bruce Hill
Speaker: Louis Inoke, Cook Islands official; Mariama Maha PNG official; Olivia Philpott Netball Australia
PHILPOTT: Yeah, so it's an Australian government program that's part of the Pacific Sports Partnerships Program. Netball is one of five sports that's been funded to build grassroots participation in the Pacific and because the funding comes from AusAid, there's also very important sport for development to the program as well. So we've been working in Samoa, Vanuatu, Cook Islands and PNG for the past three years.
HILL: Now, also in the studio here, we have Mariama Maha from Papua New Guinea. Tell us where netball is in PNG. You don't get the impression it's a very widespread sport in anywhere in Melanesia really?
MAHA: It actually is in Papua New Guinea.
HILL: I'm wrong, I stand corrected.
MAHA: In Papua New Guinea, it's the most popular women's sport. We have over 10,000 women playing at the moment. Yes,
HILL; So why doesn't it get the publicity that say Rugby League does?
MAHA: Because everyone loves rugby league more than netball.
HILL: Oh, obviously a lot of people love netball or they wouldn't be playing it in such big numbers?
MAHA: Yeah, well a lot of netball that's played in the country at the moment is not competitive, not for them to gain anything, but just a family sport really for the girls to just go and exercise and stuff like that. But not to a level where everyone wants to gain recognition, yeah.
HILL: So what do you think about this Australian program to try and support netball. Do you think it will work?
MAHA: Yes, it will work in PNG and it has been a lot of help, because we do struggle with a lot of funding. I'd like to thank the Australian government in AusAid and especially Netball Australia for giving us that opportunity to develop the sport or develop the code in our country.
HILL: Mmm. Well, it's also pretty big in Polynesia.
Now we also have in the studio here Louis Inoke, from the Cook Islands. Now Louis, I can't help noticing that you're not a woman?
INOKE: Yeah, I have a few problems with that, trying to make people understand.
HILL: I'm trying to make a joke about a rose between two thorns, but it doesn't work?
INOKE: Yeah, exactly. I'm not actually the best looking rose, but that's why I'm on radio.
HILL: You've got face for radio?
INOKE: Yeah, definitely. I've always been told that. But more to the point, it was actually an issue in the Cook Islands, where they wanted a bit more involvement from other sectors of the public and having some young daughters who were passionate about netball. It seemed like a logical choice for me and I want to support them and having support of Australian aid and Australian Netball getting behind and help fund the whole issue. It seemed quite good and for us it's about grassroots and development and yeah, no it's going along rather well.
HILL; So you're interested because your daughters are really keen on it?
INOKE: Yes, they are actually fanatical.
MAHA: He got bullied by his wife.
INOKE: Yeah, as well, that was the other issue.
HILL: Don't admit that in public?
INOKE: You know, actually it gets good brownie points, so I actually do openly admit to that. But I've actually bitten into a little cookie, so to speak, and I'm choking on it and it's becoming bigger than I can cope with.
HILL: So how's this scheme going to work. What just going to funnel some money into it or personnel or bring people to Australia? How's it going to work?
MAHA: Yeah, so Netball Australia has just successfully applied to continue under this funding until 2017 and yeah, the basic idea is. The main goals I guess are increasing participation and through that, we've managed to set up central offices in each of the five countries that we're working in and staff them with mostly female Indigenous staff members. And then we're doing a lot of work with governance to make sure that they're organisations are sustainable once the funding finishes. Then, of course, it's also using netball as a tool for, for development, so our main aim is to create safe and supportive environments, where women can become leaders and make decisions and.
HILL: But this is just more than just sports, isn't it?
MAHA: Definitely and netball's a great tool for that, because in the Pacific, it really is the biggest women's sport, so.
HILL: Well, I know how big it is. One of my cousins, used to play for the Northern Mystics. She did herself an injury recently. So I know that it's very, very popular in New Zealand and Australia and obviously in the Pacific as well. But there's always been the thing, that "Oh it's a girls sport" and it just doesn't get the money, it doesn't get the TV time, doesn't get the publicity.
Mariama, do you feel that sort of perhaps netball suffers being seen as a women's sport?
MAHA: Yes, in our country, I'd say a lot of the focus is different culture. We feel, well, a lot of business houses, we don't get as much sponsorship as we would like in our country, only because no one really follows netball in our country, yeah.
INOKE: I think it's a gender issue we're trying to overcome.
HILL: Well, you're doing your bit?
INOKE: Yeah, yeah, I am, I'm trying hard. But what it is the perception. I mean male sports get most of the funding and most of the accolades, but in reality, I mean the social aspects involved with netball and women. I mean it's like a marriage I guess. If you're woman is happy, you're wife is happy generally. Everything else falls into place.
HILL: There's a social side to netball, isn't there?
MAHA: And I guess we're doing that through this program, we're increasing the profile of the sport and the women involved with it and trying to raise the image of them as leaders in our communities and over the past. For the past year, we've increased participation by 92 per cent across all of the islands.
HILL: That's, that's a large amount of per cent?
MAHA: And, even just men seeing more women playing more often, but it's also in the media more and these guys get to see the ANZ Championships. Some of them get to watch it live on television in their country so.
HILL: Do you think you'll be able to get the interest in the Pacific, not just fathers of daughters, but the general public will want to see netball on television and things like that?
INOKE: I think there's a slow change. It's like anything else, it just needs them to open their eyes a little bit more. They get to see the difference and they see the improvement.
I mean for me, I'm predominantly, I was a footballer, rugby and all that. I was that much a strong believer in that. But now we're at a point and a lot of my friends are starting to change, because they're children, their daughters, their friends, and they're active now and that's getting them out of the houses, into the courts, playing, getting active and it's just young children, like five year-olds, seven year-olds, who are otherwise struggling to actually find a sport that accommodates them.
HILL: Mariama Maha, in PNG, and obviously, I don't think netballs going to challenge League anytime soon. But on the other hand, netballs not associated with massive brawls during State of Origin?
MAHA: No, no it isn't.
INOKE: Not yet.
HILL: Give it time.
HILL: Some of those girls can be quite nasty?
MAHA: Oh yes, they can be, definitely.