Gibraltar is hosting the Netball Europe Open Championship this May, from Thursday 10th to Sunday 13th, a weekend packed with exciting matches in which Gibraltar plays the Republic of Ireland, Israel, Isle of Man and United Arab Emirates national teams. This event is indeed a boost not only for local sports but also for tourism, since each team includes twelve players and up to five team officials, plus relatives, fans and supporters. Ahead of the game, we speak to the Gibraltar Netball Association’s keen player, coach and talent-identified umpire Nadine Pardo-Zammit. But what is a talented-identified umpire and what are the odds that Gibraltar may ever produce one?

A talent-identified umpire is cherry-picked from a restricted pool of top netball umpires, and odds are slim indeed. Yet homegrown Nadine Pardo-Zammit is one of just two umpires with such title in Europe, aspiring to soon qualify as an international umpire, a status presently claimed by only six in the whole of Netball Europe.

Nadine Pardo-Zammit

“Having been talent-identified means that I am regularly invited to go abroad to umpire international matches. Last year, I travelled to the Netball Europe U17 Championships in Dublin in March, the Netball Europe U21 Championships in Aberdeen in May, then I flew to Trinidad and Tobago umpiring a series of matches between the host nation and Barbados last June and the Open Championships in Cardiff last October where I umpired teams ranking in the top ten in the world.”

Nadine feels honoured and humbled to be attending such high-profile events, where she can literally run with the top athletes. “My main objective is always to show that I can consistently work at a high standard, and ensure that the best teams in the world can push each other to the limits in a fair and safe contested manner.”

Life revolves pretty much around hoop and net for Nadine who, when is not umpiring abroad is umpiring in Gibraltar – and when she is not umpiring she is playing for her team ‘Fruitshoots’ in the local first division league, or coaching her fifteen and ten-year old daughters’ teams in Second Division and Junior League respectively. She is also in the Gibraltar Netball committee as Head Umpire and manages allocations on a weekly basis for the Senior League and the Junior League. “As the Head Umpire for the Gibraltar Netball Association I am determined to raise the next generation of netball umpires on the Rock and hope that they will also grow to have the same passion I have for the sport.”

A good four to six hours are weekly dedicated to netball and training: “Keeping fit is important to my umpiring progression, and I include a lot of distance running and sprinting into my fitness regime. Netball matches are fifteen-minute quarters of non-stop running so I need to make sure I can keep up with the elite players.” Umpiring is an active role which for the candidate is required to keep a certain level of fitness both physically and mentally while sprinting around the court amidst the players and making decisions that can and will influence the unfolding of the match and ultimately the teams’ rankings.

“I have always loved sport,” Nadine says, “and I played volleyball and table tennis as teenager. When I returned to Gibraltar after university, a friend suggested I joined her netball team. I started playing netball when I was twenty-three, then the Association President Moira Gomez offered me to attend an umpiring course and I soon qualified as ‘C’ Award umpire. From there I moved on to becoming ‘B’ Award umpire and then Gibraltar’s first ‘A’ Award umpire, the stepping stones that opened the door to being talent-identified.” As she progresses internationally, she brings back the knowledge she gains and applies it to local league matches, improving the standard of netball in Gibraltar.

Rising in popularity worldwide and extremely popular in Gibraltar with four Senior divisions and three Junior Divisions, netball is growing from strength to strength in Gibraltar. President Moira Gomez can count on committee members like Nadine’s sister Lizanne Pardo-Gomez who is the Junior Development Manager, Junior League Coordinator Joanna Moreno, Fixtures Secretary Lauren Lewis, Treasurer Gerry Rodriguez, Events and Fundraising Organizer Michelle Gibson and Facilities Manager Susette Gallighan. Many more volunteers also help develop the Netball Association such as Coaching Officer Janice Moreno, Safeguarding Officers Emily Bright and Keisha Moreno, Visiting Teams Manager Karin McMahon, Media Officer Amy Valverde, and Senior Squad Coach Sarah Payas amongst others.

Coaches never underestimate the social and educational side of netball playing: “We always look out for children to leave the court having enjoyed themselves. Participation is always encouraged and the social aspect is gratifying.”