World Netball President Liz Nicholl said that "the Commonwealth is at the heart of netball, and netball is at the heart of the Commonwealth" ©Getty Images

World Netball President Liz Nicholl has insisted that the "Commonwealth is at the heart of netball" as the sport's tournament continues here at Birmingham 2022.

Netball first featured at the Commonwealth Games at Auckland 1990, and has been a permanent fixture since Kuala Lumpur 1998.

Gold Coast 2018 featured one of the sport's most memorable moments, when England struck late to stun hosts Australia by a single point, and Nicholl said that World Netball recognises the significance of the Games for the sport.

"It's incredibly important, it's very special for netball," Nicholl told insidethegames.

"We've got a membership now of 78, 46 are Commonwealth nations, so the Commonwealth is at the heart of netball, and netball is at the heart of the Commonwealth.

"It's a multi-sport Games so it's unique in that respect.

"We're getting inroads into regional multi-sport Games, but the Commonwealth has been our multi-sport big experience for our top nations and they really cherish it."

The top 12 sides in the world rankings are all featuring in the ongoing tournament at the National Exhibition Centre, with group matches due to run until Thursday (August 4).

The top two sides in both groups are set to advance to the semi-finals, with the remaining eight teams taking part playing classification matches.

Nicholl has been impressed with the action at the start of the tournament.

Liz Nicholl insisted that the netball tournament at Birmingham 2022 had
Liz Nicholl insisted that the netball tournament at Birmingham 2022 had "got off to a great start" ©Getty Images

"I think it's going brilliantly, we’ve got off to a great start," the President insisted.

"All the organisation behind the scenes has been excellent, so we've had a very smooth journey through.

"There's a huge amount of preparation that's gone into all the support around the court with the technical officials and the umpires and the athletes, and the message from them all is that it's going really well.

"They're enjoying themselves, and you can see that on the court."

World Netball rebranded from the International Netball Federation in 2021 and launched a strategic plan "to grow, to play, and to inspire".

With the governing body having 78 member nations, Nicholl detailed how expanding the sport's reach globally forms a key part of its plans moving forward.

"We have a new, very focused strategy which actually starts with our purpose of creating a better world through netball, so it's not just about play and competition, it's about social impacts through netball," Nicholl explained.

"We have a vision of a sport that's open to all, so there's great opportunities for us to extend netball to more men and boys.

"We have three strategies which are to grow our game, play our game - which is about our product - and inspire, which is about the creation of a better world through netball and the impact that we can have particularly but not solely on women and young girls.

"Growth of our sport is a top priority for us.

"Growth in terms of participants and growth in terms of nations that are competing and in membership of our organisation.

"We have 78 member nations, 46 from the Commonwealth, so we already have a significant number from outside the Commonwealth."

Liz Nicholl argued that the 2023 Netball World Cup in Cape Town will be
Liz Nicholl argued that the 2023 Netball World Cup in Cape Town will be "a real festival of netball" ©Getty Images

Next year's Netball World Cup is due to be held on the African continent for the first time in the South African city of Cape Town, and Nicholl was firm in her belief that it can serve as a catalyst for the growth of the game.

"[It's] absolutely massive," she insisted.

"The sport is growing exponentially in Africa with the number of participants, and the number of nations that are members is extending into the north African area where there are French-speaking areas, so the sport is growing and the Netball World Cup will shine a spotlight like never before.

"It will be amazing, and all the preparations are going very well indeed.

"The Organising Committee is well led, and we have dedicated resource at World Netball to be able to work alongside them, to bring the learnings from other previous hosts as well so that we're not duplicating effort."

The World Netball President also said that the 16-team World Cup features "a very representative group of nations" through the qualification system, and will be "a real festival of netball".

Nicholl was elected as World Netball President prior to the last World Cup held in Liverpool in 2019.

A former player for Wales and later chief executive of England Netball, vice-chair of Commonwealth Games England and chief executive of UK Sport, she credits the sport with providing her "with fantastic leadership opportunities, the ability to develop my skills in a safe environment, to grow my confidence, to be able to apply for things that I thought might be beyond my reach, and I surprised myself".

She said it has been "a joy to be back in netball", and insisted: "Everybody that I come across at every level, in every nation, just wants to make a difference, particularly but not only for women and girls."