Should there be a cap on Suncorp Super Netball imports?

THE 2021 Suncorp Super Netball (SSN) season was once again a huge spectacle, chock full of Australian and international netball talent. However with players once again being left out of SSN calculations – think former Australian Diamonds captain Caitlin Bassett or upcoming West Australian goaler Donnell Wallam – it has posed the question once more about imports within the SSN competition.

What has happened to Caitlin Bassett?

With 2022 SSN lists settled over the past month, one of the big talking points has been the absence of Bassett, who has not been signed to an SSN team for the upcoming season. While the towering goal shooter has been a pivotal leader within the Australian netball program for many years, she spent the 2021 season in the ANZ Premiership with the Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic and then chose to head back home to Australia for ongoing knee rehabilitation instead of signing with the Magic for a second season.

While many expected Bassett to return to the SSN competition, unfortunately there was no goal shooter position available across the eight teams, meaning the former Diamonds captain has likely been relegated to state league netball, while still being part of the Diamonds program. This is almost unheard of, with the first instance of this happening just this year, when Chelsea Pitman was named in the England Roses despite not earning a 2021 playing contract at any of the three major netball competitions after being delisted by the Adelaide Thunderbirds at the end of 2020.

In a tell-all interview with The Australian last week, Bassett explained that she did not expect a contract upon return to Australia, but was hopeful for one with the 2022 Commonwealth Games edging ever closer.

“After being an athlete as long as I have you learn to never expect anything. I certainly wanted to come back and play netball in Australia. That’s why I turned down another year playing in New Zealand,” Bassett explained.

“‘Disappointing’ is a word I have said and heard a lot lately. From friends, fans, Super Netball clubs and Netball Australia. They say ‘it’s disappointing I am in this position’. An experienced player, with over 100 caps for Australia, who hasn’t got a contract. I am in a situation that no Australian squad member has ever faced before and am navigating it day by day.”

So with Bassett’s intriguing situation in the spotlight, we pose the question:

Is Australian talent getting put on the backburner to allow import players to shine?

The short answer is yes; unfortunately they are. While international talent has unquestionably taken the SSN competition to a new level over the past few seasons, there is no doubt that the number of imports is inadvertently taking away opportunities from developing Australian talent. While this can be considered a good thing in many ways – particularly in evening up the international netball standard – it also limits Australia’s own preparation for future international competitions. Bassett is a firm believer that there should be greater opportunity offered to Australian pathways talent.

“I think we have amazing Australian talent, we always have, but we just aren’t allowing it to be showcased,” Bassett told The Australian. “There are training partners and fringe squad members being denied really crucial opportunities for their development in favour of international athletes.”

“This year Kiera Austin injured her ACL and teammate Sophie Dwyer was given an opportunity to play. Do you think if Kiera hadn’t have gotten injured Sophie would be involved in the Australian squad; no?”

Factor in the replacement of the Australian Netball League (ANL) pathways system with the 2021 Australian Netball Championships (ANC) – which never actually went ahead due to ongoing COVID-19 issues – and the development pathways are chock full of Australian talent that is yet to break into the SSN system. Players waiting in the wings could be inadvertently being left behind, effectively sitting behind international talent and hoping for an opportunity that potentially may not come.

Netball Australia CEO Kelly Ryan has since defended the Suncorp Super Netball’s lack of cap on international netball talent, explaining that the uncapped imports are a testament to the world-class nature of the competition.

“We love imports in the competition. That’s one of those key advantages that put your sport and your competition ahead of many others,” Ryan said in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald.

“Trying to find that opportunity to break back into the SSN competition is not an easy one, and that goes to show how good the competition actually is, and how world-class the athletes are as well.”

Should there be a cap on imports? What alternatives are there to an international quota?

These are interesting questions to pose, especially in the context of Bassett’s situation. From a competition perspective, no there should not be a cap; if SSN wants to be the greatest competition in the world, it needs the greatest international talent to participate. But from an Australian pathways perspective, the question is a little more dicey.

A great alternative to an international quota is the addition of more teams to the competition. While it would obviously spread the international talent more thinly, it would also enable more young players to step up to a level they can actively pursue, and deservingly reach their potential as those before them have been able to do.

With SSN contracts sorted for the next two years and Ryan’s firm defence of the import situation across the competition, it is safe to say that Australian talent must continue to fight for a chance to shine over the coming seasons. Realistically, international events such as the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games and 2023 Netball World Cup in Cape Town, South Africa could be the real test for Australia and the SSN’s stance on imports, but until then young talent will need to work away on the sidelines.

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