|The netball draw for the Games is
Pool A Canada, England, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Wales
Pool B Australia, Barbados, Jamaica, Fiji, South Africa
International netball is today gaining more popularity than ever in all corners of the globe. This was underlined during in 1998 in Kuala Lumpur, when the sport made its inaugural appearance on the Commonwealth Games stage and it's back once again at Manchester 2002.
Netball is a tough sport, requiring huge amounts of both physical and mental agility on the part of the players. Although originating from basketball in 1891, it was as early as 1897 when netball as we now know it - played on grass with hoops and nets - first appeared, yet it took until 1963 before England hosted the first world championships.
These days the tournament is held every four years and its popularity as a spectator sport is beginning to spread far beyond its perceived schoolgirl audience. There are now over 300 local leagues for adults and juniors in Great Britain alone and a 'Super League' structure has recently started.
Current world champions Australia will be looking to add another Commonwealth gold to their success but will have to fight off a stern challenge from the Kiwis and the English who are currently ranked second and third respectively. Then there are the Jamaicans and South Africans who are sure to have a say in the final medal reckonings as well! Australia's dominance is based largely on the fact that the country has 750,000 affiliated players of the game.
For England player Tracey Neville though it will be a chance to perform on the world stage in her hometown, for Tracey is the sister of Manchester United and England footballers Gary and Phil Neville. Both of whom are sure to be watching on to see if she can emulate their success and take home a medal to add to the bronze won in Kuala Lumpur in 1998
For the rest of the athletes though, Manchester 2002 will provide the perfect setting to show off their skills to the watching millions. Netball spectators can expect to see fast accurate passing dominated by girls at the peak of physical fitness, as the ball zips around the court in this highly physical yet non-contact sport.
It's sure to be an eye-opener for the public, most of whom won't have witnessed the sport at anything like this high level before, and the opportunity to witness the skills on display should prove a great draw to Games-goers and sports fans alike.
The setting for the semi-finals and finals of the netball competition will be the hugely impressive Manchester Evening News Arena, normally the home of the Manchester Storm ice hockey team and host to many a large pop concert. So it'll be move over Spice Girls, and make way for what could turn out to be one of the most exciting, closest fought events of the 2002 Games.