Samoan coach and former Silver Fern Linda Vagana has urged officials of netball's new trans-Tasman competition to change the import rule or watch the sport suffer internationally.
Vagana has slammed the ruling which allows just one import player -- someone who is ineligible to play for New Zealand -- for franchise teams in next year's ANZ championship.
It is believed the import rule is proving the sticking point in signing off on player contracts with the national players' association and Trans Tasman Netball Ltd, the company running the competition.
Neither New Zealand players' association manager Tim Lythe nor TTNL general manager Tony Holding was available for comment yesterday but Vagana said the ruling was "stupid" and did not want the players' association to endorse it.
The stalled talks have left franchises at a stalemate without being able to negotiate terms with prospective players and sign them up, just four months out from the start of the new elite competition.
Holding said this week he hoped the contract issue would be solved before Christmas.
Coaches have vented their frustrations at not yet having teams to work with at a time when pre-season training is usually well under way.
The Central Pulse and Northern Mystics look to be most affected by the ruling, with a number of Pacific Island players having competed in last year's National Bank Cup for North Island franchises.
The Pulse, in particular, is already facing the squeeze having confirmed English international Sonia Mkoloma as its import but trying to find a place for Wellington stalwart and Shakers captain Frances Solia, who last month captained Samoa at the world championships.
Vagana said some of her international players "just don't know what to do". Five of her world championship squad played in last year's NBC.
"If they want to play in the Tasman Trophy then they're saying to me they won't be able to play for Samoa," she said. "I'm really disappointed for them because they are residents in New Zealand, live here all their lives but just because of where their parents come from or where their roots are, they can't represent another team."
She feared, if the ruling went ahead, it would take international netball "five steps backwards" by robbing players of competition.
"This basically feels like a kick in the face for coaches like Vilimaina Davu (Fiji), Ana Noovao (Cook Islands) and myself who are trying to build up netball in countries where women's sport is already very much the minority."
Vagana, who played 61 tests for the Ferns, said she understood where the rule was coming from from a "New Zealand perspective".
"They're looking for Silver Ferns and not all the players that they hoped to choose from are available to them."
Australian teams were not affected as much by the import rule because of its wider pool from which to select players, she said.
But Vagana said a decision had to be made on whether the new competition was there to just help New Zealand and Australia or international netball.
She said if the sport wanted to push for a future place at the Olympics then netball needed to be stronger across the board.
"They'll be wanting the support of the smaller nations. Well, I don't think they'll get that support because who wants to be at a big international where you've only got the top three countries who are always going to be the top three?"
She said nations like the Cook Islands and Samoa had shown big improvements at last month's world championships but that would change if players were denied the chance to play top level netball.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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