One of the longest streaks of consecutive international appearances in this country’s sporting history will come to an end on Thursday, and hardly anyone will care.
Laura Langman, the Silver Ferns’ gritty midcourter, has signed for the new Sunshine Coast team in a revamped professional netball landscape. This, in turn, rules her out of representing the Ferns next year under a newly revised policy from Netball New Zealand. After 12 years of playing in every single international test the team has competed in, her run will come to a screeching halt.
Langman has played 141 tests for the Ferns. In a row. She had no sabbatical, no injuries to rule her out. No rest and rotation. It is only seven fewer games than Richie played in total. With a long history playing domestically in the various incarnations of the national championship / ANZ championship, Langman should be lauded as one of our best sportspeople of the modern era.
Sportspeople. Not sportswomen. Sportspeople.
Brendon McCullum played 99 consecutive test matches and was rightly celebrated. But Langman’s achievement, while being mentioned this week as a throwaway line to give the final test in the Constellation Cup some meaning, hasn’t been notable until now.
Perhaps it is the disgruntled feminist in me, but it disappoints me to know that Langman won’t receive the credit she’s more than due. Despite it being the most popular sport in New Zealand for women, netball doesn’t capture the imagination of your everyday sports fan. Sexism? Ambivalence? Below-par product? Lack of real competition? Not a television sport? What is the reason netball, and as a result, netball achievements, do not consistently make front pages, lead bulletins or generate internet memes?
I myself am guilty. If I am not doing anything else, I’ll watch netball. It isn’t appointment viewing, but I don’t dislike it. Like any sport, from cricket to underwater hockey, if New Zealand is playing, I want us to win. I have been to a handful of Silver Fern games. And it is a heck of a lot of fun to play socially. But the Ferns don’t rank in my top five sports teams, and I’m left wondering if it’s the chicken or the egg which has lead us to this point. Does the general sporting public not warm to netball because they’re not exposed to it enough in the mainstream media? Or do the papers, news channels and radio stations not cover it as prominently because the interest is not there?
I do not claim to have the answers. I do wish it were different. We celebrate our female Olympic athletes gloriously when they do well. Back to back gold medallists are household names and put on meat packets (and commercials). As well they should be. How many typical Kiwi sports fans could pick Langman out of a line up? She might even be the easy one. How many could identify Grace Rasmussen or Janine Southby?
As Langman bows out, for next year at least, I’m left with a lot of admiration for her. But also a lot of questions. At a time when New Zealand netball has seen the dissolution of the ANZ championship, is chasing Australia in pursuit of number one ranking, and with a nation non-committal and questioning of its validity, is Netball New Zealand right to invoke this rule, robbing the team of one of their best players? Should playing outside of New Zealand really preclude a player from representing their country? (A question which transcends the code.)
Props to you Laura Langman. Congratulations on your achievement, and good luck in Australia next year. You’ll be missed in a black dress – you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.
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