Bedford’s male force in a female-dominated sport tasked with boosting Netball nationwide

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Gary Burgess has progressed from the courts of University of Bedfordshire to the very top of his field... (Image: Sportsbeat)

The Head of Officiating at England Netball, Bedford’s Gary Burgess, has been asked to lead on a new strategy to boost participation in the sport nationwide.

The 41-year-old from Bedford, who now lives with his family in Norfolk, is one of the most recognisable faces at England Netball and one of the most respected men in what is the biggest female team sport in England.

Burgess believes his role in helping England Netball to launch their new 10-year ‘Adventure Strategy’ can inspire those who may not have considered taking up the sport to don their trainers and take to the court.

He said: “I am one of the biggest advocates for women’s sport and I am proud to work for England Netball and be involved in netball.”

“I have always been welcomed with open arms in what is traditionally a female sport and would love to see more men involved in the game.”

“As a company, England Netball has got everyone’s best interests at heart and the leadership within our sport is second to none.”

“Our new ‘Adventure Strategy’ sees a renewed commitment to opening up the game to new audiences and growing the sport at every level, and I am excited to be involved in that journey.”

Burgess first took to the netball court when studying Sport at the University of Bedfordshire and made a rapid rise through the ranks to reach the very top of his field.

He is now considered one of the best international umpires in the world, officiating the last three World Cup finals and every Vitality Netball Super League final since 2008.

He explained how despite being a man in a female-dominated sport, he has never faced any resistance from those within the game:

“I’ve never really experienced any negativity or sexism or anything like that and I think some other sports can probably learn from that,” Burgess added.

“I’ve been welcomed into netball and never had any problems. Being such a high-profile role model does lead others to consider that they have a place in our sport.”

“I believe in the saying, ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’. So there are other men in netball because of that representation and that profile, they see me umpiring and some of the other guys umpiring and can aspire to do it too.”

“That really for me is the key to getting other groups of people from different backgrounds and parts of society into the sport to reflect modern England, in a multicultural group.”

Burgess first umpired internationally in 2006 and has since travelled the world, taking charge of top games with the world’s best players.

“I always aspired to be an international player in something but never had that required spark.”

“In umpiring you do get the opportunity in a roundabout way to represent your country on the world stage and experience all of those things that you would do as an international athlete.”

“I came from humble beginnings of working-class family and only really ever went on holiday in this country.”

“I never had aspirations, never even dreamed of going to places like Australia but I’ve probably been 14 times in the last 10 years and then that’s just to Australia.”

“I have also been lucky enough to go to New Zealand and the Cook Islands, Hawaii, the Caribbean, Africa and all over Europe with netball.”

Bedford boasts one of the largest leagues in the country, the Bedford and District Netball League, encompassing 64 teams from across the county who play in six divisions.

Grangers Blaze currently sit atop the Premier Division with five wins from five, followed closely by BCNC and Beds Team Black.

With opportunities aplenty across the sport, in many different ways, the next Gary Burgess could well come from within the Borough of Bedford.

For more information on England Netball’s new ‘Adventure Strategy’ or to find out how to get involved in netball, visit www.englandnetball.co.uk.

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