Skip to content
Skip to main content

The rise of the Roses

Updated Tuesday, 11 July 2023

With the Netball World Cup being played this summer, attention returns once again to the potential of the England Roses to achieve success and inspire a nation. 

Find out more about The Open University's Sport and Fitness courses and qualifications.

Research demonstrates strong links between national success and grassroots participation, meaning that the Roses are playing for more than just a medal. For those unfamiliar with the current game, netball is a fast-paced invasion team sport. This means aiming to get possession of the ball while attacking (invading) the defensive team’s goal area. It comprises two teams of seven players competing against one another to score the most goals over a duration of sixty minutes, which is divided into four quarters of play. Players are assigned specific positions, with each allocated areas of the court in which they can move, with two players on each team able to shoot and score a goal. The seven positions are Goal Shooter (GS), Goal Attack (GA), Wing Attack (WA), Centre (C), Wing Defence (WD), Goal Defence (GD) and Goal Keeper (GK).

Netball was originally developed as a game that was primarily played by women and girls. Initially adapted from the game of basketball in America in 1891, netball was first played in England in 1895 at Madame Ostenburg’s College. At that time, vigorous exercise for women was not typically well received, but netball in England was accepted because ‘despite being vigorous games they appeared to conform to dominant understandings of femininity as a form of physical restraint’. Netball was viewed as more suitable for girls as it was graceful rather than powerful and grew in popularity throughout the 20th century, largely in British Commonwealth countries. Although viewed by many as conforming to a feminine ideal, netball has predominately remained a sport that is regulated and governed by women, rendering it as a vehicle of feminine agency to drive change and alter the perception of the sport and showcase the athleticism of the female body. Netball has undergone a vast transition from its inception to the game that we see today, with many rule changes over the years to improve the speed and excitement of the game.

Photograph of England netball player Imogen Allison receiving the ball in a game.England Centre Imogen Allison will go to great lengths to receive the ball, defending her opponent, New Zealand Centre Kate Heffernan.Photograph of England netball player Imogen Allison receiving the ball in a game.

Netball is the most popular female team sport in England, and its popularity grew rapidly in 2019. This increase was a likely effect of the rising visibility of the England Women’s team following their 2018 Commonwealth Games gold medal, and the 2019 Netball World Cup being held in Liverpool, where 550,000 people tuned in to watch England’s semi-final on Sky Sports, where they gained bronze. Then came the global pandemic, temporarily halting the momentum of the Roses, with periods of total suspension of grassroots netball. Inevitably, the pandemic led to a reduction in the participation figures, and the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham saw the Roses narrowly miss out on bronze to finish fourth. Despite these setbacks, figures show that netball is bouncing back and participation figures are once again on the rise. The visibility of netball has continued to grow with the Vitality Superleague, comprising 10 teams, regularly shown on Sky TV and across various platforms, attracting new fans to the sport and showcasing the skill and power of the modern-day players. The rise in popularity and success of netball has led to increased funding into the grassroots level of the sport.

In 2022, Sport England pledged to invest £21.2 million over a period of 5 years to continue to grow and develop netball in England with a number of initiatives planned. This builds on previous investments over 10 years of £55 million of Sport England and National Lottery money into netball initiatives. The largest programme to benefit from this investment was the Back to Netball (B2N) scheme, launched by England Netball in 2008, which has seen over 150,000 women take part. B2N is a national scheme aimed at women of all ages and experience to provide a fun and relaxed reintroduction to netball, with various sessions running around the country. Data collected via an England Netball impact report showed that 89% of B2N participants stayed in the scheme for less than two years with 37% progressing to playing formal club netball. Although, of those that didn’t continue with netball, 52% stayed active via other forms of physical activity (running, jogging, walking, fitness classes, gym or swimming). The B2N scheme remains active in various locations across England.

With the pandemic hitting, participation figures and the Roses missing out on Bronze in Birmingham 2022, the World Cup this year is a much-needed platform to build on the new post-pandemic era of grassroots netball by achieving success on a world stage.


Explore more women in sport

Fanatical about sport? Try one of our free courses


Become an OU student


Ratings & Comments

Share this free course

Copyright information

Skip Rate and Review

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?