Jacqueline Coetzee says she wakes up with a smile on her face every day when she is playing netball. Her sunny disposition is an upshot of the passion and dedication she possesses for a sport she claims is the most popular in her native South Africa. The Abu Dhabi captain and goal defence will lead her squad into the Inter-Gulf Championships in Bahrain today, determined to regain the title they last won when they hosted the championship three years ago.
Twenty-one women's teams and four men's teams will compete over the next two days in the championships, which is now easily the largest sporting event for women in the Gulf region. Abu Dhabi will compete against representatives from Bahrain, Dubai and Hucclecote, the England Premier League team, for the Invitational Cup, a separate competition for the best seven teams from 2008. Coetzee won the title in her first year with Abu Dhabi in 2006 but there has been no success since. This time round Coetzee is confident the team can prevent Dubai from making it a hat-trick of wins and reclaim the crown.
"I think we have a very good chance to regain the title," said Coetzee. "We have had the highest turn-out, with more than 150 players this season. We have some very good young players joining the squad this season and we are all confident." Coetzee does sound a note of caution, though. "Dubai is traditionally the powerhouse and they have entered seven teams, and that alone would provide a clue how strong the opposition would be," she said. "I guess the other teams are equally well prepared.
"We have been training three to four days a week. It is an awful lot of time considering that all the players are either working ladies or with kids. "They are a dedicated lot. We have a good side with some new players joining us." Erene Spies, the chairman of the Abu Dhabi Netball League, was equally confident of a title-winning performance from her team. "We have a lot of junior players, over 16, joining the team," she said. "And they have given the senior and experienced players a hard time, so there is lot of improvement all round, in both numbers and talent.
"Our B team won the Plate final last year and I feel we have a good team to go one step ahead and regain the Gulf title. We also have a men's team for the first time. And I would like to think the sport is moving forward." Spies, another South African, has a lot of ideas to promote and popularise the sport in Abu Dhabi, but lamented the lack of facilities and full-time staff to help develop the game in the region.
"We clearly haven't got the volunteers to further promote and develop the game," she said. "All of us are either working or have kids to look after, so it is so much difficult to look beyond what we are already doing. "To get a venue arranged every season is a bigger task. The league venue keeps changing every season and we are forced to look for a decent venue every season. We pay a lot of money for the courts and as a non profit organization we find it very difficult to raise the funds.
"We don't have enough funds to attract the schools, but if we can do that the sport will really thrive. It is a very good sport for the women. We really want to promote the sport and if we can get a hand on an indoor court, we can play throughout the year." Meanwhile, Al Jaber were crowned the Division One champions of the Abu Dhabi Netball League and DeVere took the Division Two title on goal difference from One to One.
Coetzee was the captain of the champions Al Jaber and said: "Once again the team's dedication and hard work has come through. And the attitude of the ladies on court can be seen in the results." Al Jaber were the favourites and beat off the challenge of Crown Plaza and Panthers for the title. firstname.lastname@example.org