Sports

Small Fish in the big pond, again

She was in the Zambian team that made their debut at the Netball World Championships in New Zealand in 1999, when they finished 17 out of 26 teams.

Sixteen years on, Diana Banda has made history again, by becoming the only Zambian to play in two world championships. The 35-year-old is in Sydney with the Chipolopolo, who are grouped with Fiji, Uganda and Wales in Pool D.

Before their 74-38 loss to Uganda in their opening match yesterday, Banda said: "I feel so good to be here, this World Cup feels different from the World Championships in 1999.

"Back then, the sport was not as competitive as it is in Zambia now.

"The standard of netball in Zambia is much better now, and that's why we can qualify for the World Cup this year."

Zambia booked their place by finishing second, behind Uganda, at last year's African qualification tournament in Botswana.

They are among four African nations - along with Malawi, South Africa and Uganda - in Australia.

Nicknamed "Small Fish", Banda is the second-oldest member in Zambia's squad of 12, after 45-year-old Margaret Mutafela.

She said: "I have been working as a prison officer since 2003, but I get to focus solely on training during the netball season and then go to work during the off-season."

New Zealand and Australia have won 12 out of 13 world titles since the world championships started in 1963.

Trinidad and Tobago are the only nation to break that stranglehold in 1979, when they shared top honours with Australia and New Zealand.

World No. 5 South Africa are the continent's top nation, but Banda believes that African nations can dominate netball if more resources are poured into the sport.

After all, Malawi came within four points of beating New Zealand at last year's Commonwealth Games in Scotland.

Funding has been an issue for African nations, with Uganda's players almost having to wash cars for £10 ($21.50) apiece to fund their Sydney adventure.

Organisations such as UK Sport, Unicef and the International Netball Federation are trying to raise the level of netball and bring about social change through the sport in the continent.

Banda said: "What Australia and New Zealand can achieve, Africa can also do, if we had better facilities and more funding to play more matches against the top teams."

- LIM SAY HENG

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