Josh with team-mates Amber Pringle, Jorja Davies, Issy Thomson, Grace Angley, Emili Robertson and Jordan Sargeant. Picture: Tricia Watkinson
Josh with team-mates Amber Pringle, Jorja Davies, Issy Thomson, Grace Angley, Emili Robertson and Jordan Sargeant. Picture: Tricia Watkinson

The 11yo boy fighting a netball gender ban

AN 11-year-old Adelaide boy and his family are challenging a blanket netball ban against boys aged 12 and over as too big and strong to play with girls.

"I'm not rough at all," Josh Vanderzalm told the Sunday Mail. "I'm not like that and people need to know that boys aren't like that."

Josh, from Onkaparinga Hills, plays wing and goal attack for the Wildcats Netball Club in the state's premier female netball league, the Adelaide Metropolitan Netball Division (AMND).

He is the Wildcats' first male player and is turning 12 in less than three weeks. Under current Netball SA policy, boys can't play competitive netball - a non-contact sport - with girls after they turn 12 and have to wait until they are 16 to compete in the South Australian Men's League (M League).

The policy is exempt from federal and state anti-discrimination laws.

Girls are allowed to play Aussie rules football with boys until the age of 14, although many are now choosing to play in separate girls' leagues.

Josh will be able to play the rest of the AMND winter season, which ends in August. But after that, there is nowhere else for him to play netball competitively.

"We are hoping that something will change before the season ends," Josh's mum, Robyn Vanderzalm, said.

She said the gender policy needed to be reviewed, or at least be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, as not all boys developed at the same age or in the same way.

"It's a real shame because he's not the biggest, strongest or most aggressive player on the court and he really loves the sport," Mrs Vanderzalm said.

After being told he was too small and gentle for basketball, Josh has been playing competitive netball for the past three years in the AMND and the Southern United Netball Association. Josh is the eldest of the first three boys ever to play in the AMND (excluding Net Set Go) this year.

"It makes me very sad that Josh can't continue beyond this year as I know how much he loves his netball and he doesn't have any options to continue playing at this level," Wildcats sub-junior coach Tina Coad said. "There is a huge void of opportunity for boys between the ages of 12 and 16 to play netball."

In a statement, Netball SA says it will not be reviewing its gender policy or is aware of any exemptions to the bylaw.

Robyn Vanderzalm with her son Josh. Picture: Tricia Watkinson
Robyn Vanderzalm with her son Josh. Picture: Tricia Watkinson

"Once boys, or persons who identify as male, are over the age of 12, the decision is based on the disparity between size and strength, which can impact on the outcome of the game and create an unfair advantage," the statement says.

Netball SA chief executive Ben Scales said: "Netball SA understands it can be disappointing for participants who once they reach a certain age are unable to continue to play in their current league, but Netball SA is working hard … to increase opportunities for boys to enable them to continue playing."

Mr Scales said Netball SA and the South Australian Men's and Mixed Netball Association (SAMMNA) were investigating the establishment this year of a junior league for boys aged 16 and under to run alongside the M League.

"We are working on a way to keep boys in the system and playing after they turn 12," SAMMNA president Steve McInnes said.

He said SAMMNA, with support from Netball SA, had this year introduced a monthly netball academy for boys. He said 18 boys, aged 10 to 14, were part of the academy.

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