How female-first world of netball is learning to embrace arrival of men

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Like every man who has stepped onto a netball court, Ryan Allan has long been confronted by people questioning why he plays a woman’s sport.

First introduced to the game through his wife when seeking something they could play together, Allan quickly developed a passion that he realised was not unique among male players. So he did something about it.

From the humble beginnings of founding the England Men’s and Mixed Netball Association (EMMNA) in 2019, Allan is now at the forefront of one of the fastest growing sports in the country – growth that is not without controversy – and on the cusp of the biggest fortnight in English men’s netball history.

This weekend, London Giants and Knights Men both face an England women’s development side in warm-up matches for the senior England women’s remaining two fixtures against Jamaica in Nottingham.

A week later, Knights and Spartans Men will play alongside all 11 women’s Superleague clubs in the pre-season Rise Again Festival in Manchester – a level playing field for the country’s best males against the country’s best females.

“It’s a huge opportunity to demonstrate what men’s netball is, that these guys know how to play the game and are highly-skilled athletes,” said Allan.

“We’re on a journey of rapid growth. There have been no formal men’s teams until now and a lot of our matches have been behind closed doors, so to be brought out from behind closed doors and into an arena in front of a crowd is absolutely huge. It’s a massive opportunity.”

Although netball is not currently played by boys beyond primary school in England, almost 20,000 adult men play regularly in either men’s or mixed teams across the country. In recent years, the sport’s move to a more formal structure has been, and continues to be, rapid.

Off the back of the first men’s national championships this summer, an official league is due to launch next year with eight to 10 teams. Trials are also imminent to select a first formal England men’s team.

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