Alice Webb-Liddall has watched a lot of netball in her life. This was hands down the most confusing five minutes she’s ever seen.
This morning at the crack of dawn, I and presumably no more than 10 or so other New Zealand netball tragics woke up to watch the Silver Ferns take on the Australian Diamonds in the final of the annual netball Quad Series. New Zealand weren’t the favourites to win, and (spoiler alert?) we didn’t.
The Ferns were down by five when the strangest call I’ve ever seen on an international netball occurred. A different call ultimately probably wouldn’t have changed the end result of the game, in which Australia outclassed the Ferns to lift their seventh (of eight) Quad Series trophy. But to me, the score stopped mattering after the 53rd minute because I had receded so far into my mind palace trying to figure out what had just happened that I completely stopped paying attention to the live game.
With seven minutes to go in the fourth quarter, the Ferns got the ball downcourt to captain and goal attack Ameliaranne Ekenasio in the goal circle.
While she pivoted toward the goalpost to put up the shot, a bit of push and shove between Australia’s goal defence and our own goal shoot broke out, causing both players to fall backwards in a tangle. Ekenasio shot and the ball sailed through the net, the she walked over to help her teammate up from the ground.
Apart from two players hitting the deck, it seemed like a straightforward play. Except it wasn’t, because after both fallen players got back on their feet, referee Anso Kemp called for the clock to be paused, walked over to the other umpire, Gary Burgess, and asked for advice on the proper call to make, considering, in their opinion, “the goal wasn’t scored.”
An initial decision was made to give the ball to Australia in the New Zealand shooting circle, for no apparent reason, and after some confused looks from players (both teams), this call was reversed. Kemp and Burgess regrouped.
“I didn’t see the goal being scored,” said Burgess. “Me neither,” said Kemp. Even long-time netball commentator Jenny Woods couldn’t remember if the ball had actually gone through the hoop.
“I’m not sure what to suggest, if I’m honest,” Burgess told Kemp, while everyone at home was getting ready to watch the replay that would clear up any confusion and confirm the goal.
During the broadcast replay, the umpires had come to a decision. “It’s going to be a toss up between the goal keep and the goal shooter. Unfortunately we didn’t see the goal being scored because I was looking at the two players going down,” Kemp told perplexed New Zealand shooter Grace Nweke.
“We didn’t see the goal being scored,” said Kemp, but I could swear I saw…
“We didn’t see the goal being scored.”
“WE DIDN’T SEE THE GOAL.”
There was an obvious solution here: couldn’t the umpires just watch the replay and see the goal being scored with their own eyes?
“Can you watch the replay?” said Nweke. “I can’t do that,” replied Kemp. As though, like a vampire stays clear of mirrors to avoid pondering its own existence, watching a video replay would cause an umpire to ponder their inability to see a goal.
After scouring the international netball rulebook (read: ctrl+F searching a few key words) I could find no rule that said umpires can’t refer to a video replay (and if there is such a rule, WHY?). There are no TMO refs in netball, and I don’t wish there were – it’s a quick game and a TMO would hardly be needed – but there’s got to be a better way to make a decision like this than a basketball-style tip-off, the likes of which are rarely seen past year 9 Saturday social netball – definitely not at the international level.
If not willing to give the point for the goal scored, the call surely then should have had something to do with the contact infringement that led to two players falling to the floor. This one:
But instead it was put to a 50/50. Ultimately, New Zealand won that game of chance, and scored their rightful point. And then they went on to lose the game by five.
Maybe vice-captain Wing Attack Gina Crampton summed it up best.
And though Australia was the winner on the day, it felt like the netball rulebook was the real loser. But at least we gained a new meme format to take with us into what should be an exciting rest of 2023 for the Silver Ferns.