Netball Australia has announced a three-year agreement to boost the game's development in the Pacific Islands.
Funded through the Australian government's PacificAus Sports programme, money will be allocated to employ key high performance staff in Samoa, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Tonga, while the Pacific nations will also be supported in their efforts to qualify and prepare for the 2022 Commonwealth Games and 2023 Netball World Cup.
Netball Australia interim CEO Ron Steiner said he was delighted the organisation could continue to lead the charge in helping to develop netball in the Pacific.
"Netball Australia is pleased to extend our support for the growth and development of netball internationally, particularly given that netball plays such an important role in strengthening communities and providing opportunities for girls and women to shine," he said.
"The programme builds on Netball Australia's ongoing commitment to the Pacific region, where we have been working for the past 10 years as part of the Australian government funded Pacific Sports Partnership Programmes and the new Team Up initiative. This includes working with communities at the grassroots level to address physical inactivity, as well as inequalities experienced by women and girls."
Fiji Netball President RubyAnn Sorovaki was grateful for the support.
"It's massive for us here in terms of preparing better, planning better and, given the limited resources on the ground here, and there's just so much volunteerism," she said.
"So getting this support means we're able to look after certain areas or focus on other areas others than the high performance bit that needs work here in Netball Fiji."
Local netball activities are on hold in Fiji right now, following the recent Covid-19 lockdown, but Sorovaki said the new funding will allow them to employ additional expertise to support their national teams, as they step up preparations for major international competitions.
"That's support for our preparation to have build-up games. It's support for technical support, so obviously analysts and physios. We'll also have the opportunity to work full-time with a strength and conditioning coach, which we haven't been able to do, at this level we'll be able to have them on board full-time."
Netball Australia will also assist the next generation of talent in the Pacific with an athlete immersion programme, which will see players from Fiji and Samoa join the Northern Mendi Rays team in North Queensland.
The players will live in Townsville for the duration of the season while competing in the Queensland state league, the HART Sapphire Series.
"We've selected the two athletes from Fiji and now it's just a matter of waiting on visas and the other dynamics getting them across to Australia, given the current lockdown here," Sorovaki explained.
"But we're in touch with Australia with the organisers there in terms of what's happening and timelines, so we're just waiting on that."
Australia's Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Zed Seselja, said he was looking forward to seeing Pacific athletes take on Australian and International teams on the court with the support of this programme.
"This is another great example of PacificAus Sports building closer ties with our Pacific family," he said.
"We know the Pacific is bursting with female sporting talent, especially when it comes to netball, which is almost exclusively played by women and girls. By investing in netball, Australia is unlocking the great potential of women and girls across the region and helping them take their place as sporting champions of the Pacific."
Netball Australia's support will also include increasing the coaching capability in the Pacific by travelling to each country, once safe to do so, and running train-the-trainer style courses.
Given the current challenges faced around the world due to the coronavirus pandemic, Netball Australia will work with the Australian government on alternative activity and creative ways to be able to support remotely if required.