If you believe certain history books, it was a Danish PE teacher, Holger Nielsen, who invented handball – at the very least, he was the first to write the rules down on paper. With 47 nations now participating, that’s quite a claim to fame for this small Scandinavian country.
Still, handball is the exception, not the law, as most sports played in Denmark are imports. Whether they’re from Britain (football, rugby, crickets), the States (basketball, gridiron, baseball) or elsewhere, they were introduced to the country by merchants, soldiers or immigrants, generating varying levels of interest.
One of these, netball, a relative latecomer to these shores, has taken large strides in recent years thanks to the efforts of a former Danish footballer who has taken the sport to her heart. Introduced and contested by immigrants, Sara Tolstrup Husum is proving that for a sport like netball to really take hold, it needs some help from within.
Husum, who this month became the first ever Dane to be accredited as a netball umpire, took up the sport when an Australian friend introduced it to her in 2010. The 32-year-old has been hooked ever since, attending the regular Wednesday night social competition in Bellahøj, representing Copenhagen at international tournaments, and joining the Copenhagen Netball Club’s board to reinforce the club’s knowledge of local culture. Her dream is to see netball added to the curriculum in Danish schools.
Husum’s positive, can-do attitude on the court is reflected in her day job as a primary school teacher at Jyllinge Skole. In 2010, noting how there were a distinct lack of low-contact ball sports that could be played by both sexes, Husum introduced a modified version of netball to her students, who quickly embraced it. Since then, she has been gradually working towards gathering enough expertise in the game to seriously look at how it might form part of the local school curriculum.
Husum has travelled abroad to learn more about the challenge facing her. One inspiring example is Switzerland Netball, where netball started at the international schools and – with support from parents – has grown to include multiple junior and senior leagues in Zurich, Basel, Geneva and other cities.
And Husum recently travelled to Gibraltar in June this year and represented an all-women Stockholm/Copenhagen ‘Scandinavian’ netball team in a tournament to rank up-and-coming netballing nations like Ireland, Malta, Gibraltar, Switzerland and Israel. In September, she was named the ‘Player of the Tournament’ at a mixed netball event in Zurich, where Copenhagen Netball Club finished runners-up, losing to a Swiss team that featured a number of internationals.
But it was an all-Scandinavian mixed tournament hosted by Stockholm Netball Club last weekend that has finally given Husum the chance to prove her understanding of the game and earn Netball England’s internationally recognised ‘C Award’ netball accreditation. It’s hoped that the high-level learning involved in achieving that qualification will help Husum progress netball in Denmark. Her accreditation process demonstrated to her what Denmark needs to do to fully benefit from the international bodies charged with supporting new netballing countries. For example, some adaptations need to be made to progress the sport when all the official netball rules, tests and training materials remain in English.
Last weekend’s tournament was also the vehicle for a long-awaited Swedish victory. Stockholm and Copenhagen netball clubs have enjoyed a friendly rivalry ever since both clubs were officially established during the 2008-09 season, but the Swedes had never actually beaten the Danes before.
Despite sending to Stockholm two strong Copenhagen teams peppered with Danes and a mix of internationals from around the world, the best of the three Stockholm Netball Club teams prevailed in the two-day tournament, the Kattegat Cup – helped in part by the recent arrival in the city of an experienced native New Zealand netballer.
This is all fair play, since both clubs adopt an all-inclusive approach to tournaments and regularly feature a range of players from complete beginners to very experienced netballers from all over the world.
However, at least one of the Danes did stifle a giggle when Stockholm’s team posed for a victory photo with an upside-down Swedish flag.
No doubt, a friendly rivalry like this will help the club flourish. The Kattegat Cup, which Copenhagen Netball Club first hosted in November 2011, has now been established as an annual event.
And with Danes like Husum working hard to introduce netball to Danish schools, the future looks bright for netball in Denmark.
Factfile | What is Netball?
Netball is a strategic, team-based ball sport most similar to basketball – except that the goal ring has no backboard, players may not ‘dribble’ the ball, and only a low level of contact is allowed. Netball is played in over 80 countries around the world, and while it regularly features as a women’s sport at the Commonwealth Games, in Scandinavia netball is played as a mixed sport for both men and women.
Factfile | Info
Copenhagen Netball Club runs a regular mixed competition on Wednesday nights from 7.30pm at Bellahøjhallen. New players are welcome to turn up and experience the game twice for free. See www.netball.dk for more details, and join the Facebook group ‘Copenhagen Netball Club’ or email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.