Netball: Stingrays sit out NSL season after dispute

Five-time champs will skip league for 1st time due to conflict over national players' training

The Netball Super League (NSL) has lost the Sneakers Stingrays, one of its biggest and most experienced clubs, for this year's competition.

Sneakers withdrew from the March 4-April 29 competition because of a disagreement between the club and Netball Singapore (NS) regarding the national players' training commitments.

All national players must compete in the league, which is the highest level of competition in Singapore.

Sneakers are unhappy that their four national players - national captain Vanessa Lee, Shina Teo, Parveen Nair and Jocelyn Ng - could join the club only for their Thursday training sessions.

NS had stipulated that, from Jan 5 to April 29, Tuesdays and Thursdays are to be set aside for NSL clubs to conduct training sessions.

However, in the clubs' application form to play in the league, which they had to submit in August last year, it is stated clearly that "all national and international players are only available on Thursdays for club training". This took effect from Jan 17.

Stingrays' goal defence Parveen Nair tries to prevent her rival from scoring during the 2015 Netball Super League final against the Marlins.
Stingrays' goal defence Parveen Nair tries to prevent her rival from scoring during the 2015 Netball Super League final against the Marlins. ST FILE PHOTO

The national team also meet for strength and conditioning sessions every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. These sessions usually end by 8pm.

Veteran coach Goh Seck Tuck, 56, who founded Sneakers in 1990, insisted that he is supportive of the national programme, but he would not compromise on his club's training schedule, arguing that having full attendance just once a week is insufficient to prepare for the NSL.

He said: "We're preparing for the nation's highest-level tournament. It's not unreasonable that we expect full commitment from our players to attend the training sessions.

"The players should be allowed to put aside more time to train with the clubs during the NSL season."

Cyrus Medora, NS' chief executive officer, said: "We regret that Sneakers have decided against joining the competition, but the national programme has to take precedence.

"The NSL is specifically for the elite national and Under-21 programme. It provides a pathway for the best netball players to be assessed and selected by our national selectors for the Opens and Under-21 squads. This is the primary purpose of the NSL and the clubs have a big role to play."

He added that the arrangements involving the national players have been the norm for over 10 years.

Defender Nair, 24, who was forced to sit out the last NSL season because of an injury, is hopeful that the Sneakers' absence will be for just a campaign.

She said: "I was disappointed because I was looking forward to playing for my club this year. It's not the ideal situation for now but I hope that next year, a compromise can be reached so that the Sneakers will be back in the NSL."

The Stingrays have featured in the NSL since it began in 2000 and won it five times (2000, 2002, 2006, 2009, 2015).

They withdrew from the upcoming competition on Nov 11, 10 days before the Nov 21 deadline for the clubs to submit their team lists.

NS replaced them in the six-team league with the SRC Barracudas.

The quartet of national players from Sneakers will join mixed selection clubs for the new season. These clubs are formed by a mix of players from different netball clubs. Lee and Teo will join the Tiger Sharks, while Nair and Ng will play for the Mission Mannas.

The other three clubs are the Magic Marlins, Fier Orcas and M1 Sunfish, who are made up of Under-21 players.

Orcas coach Kok Mun Wai said she was aware of the national team's training commitments and remained flexible while working around the players' training schedule.

Former national captain Micky Lin, a Mannas player, felt the NSL still had much to offer despite Sneakers' absence. She said: "That rivalry between them (the Sneakers) and other teams will be missing. But I think that this will be an unpredictable season and it will be quite fun to see how the teams perform with new players."

Correction note: This story has been updated for clarity.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 22, 2017, with the headline 'Stingrays sit out NSL season after dispute'. Print Edition | Subscribe