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Friday, 14 June, 2002, 14:57 GMT 15:57 UK

Netball is a fast mover

Netball is a lot more than just a game played by schoolgirls.

One of the fastest growing participation sports in the world, it made a big impression on its Games debut at Kuala Lumpur in 1998.

Away from the playground, netball is a fast moving and exciting sport where agility, speed of thought and teamwork are the keys to success.

The game originated from basketball at the end of the 19th century but it took a while to be organised on a global scale.

An international federation was formed in 1960 and the first world championships were held in England three years later.

The game itself is played by two teams of seven players who simply aim to score as many goals as possible - and outscore their opponents.

The court is split into three sections with a goal circle at either end and each player has a position which determines the areas of the court she can move into.

This is shown by an abbreviation on her bib.

Netball positions: Bib abbreviations
GS: Goal Shooter
GA: Goal Attack
WD: Wing Defence
WA: Wing Attack
C: Centre
GD: Goal Defence
GK: Goalkeeper

Only the goal attack and goal shooter are able to score goals, and must do so from inside the goal circle.

The attackers work in the front two areas, the defenders the back two.

Only the centre is allowed to roam, but not into the goal circles.

Each match is made up of four 15-minute quarters with a three-minute break between each quarter and five minutes for half-time.

The game is non-contact but still very physical, with the two main rules being contact and obstruction.

If these are broken, the player penalised must stand out of play and allow a free throw or shot from where she was standing - meaning frequent 'free' shots on goal.

There are several other minor rules which are punished only by a free pass.

Different countries have different styles, some more physical than others - and competition is sure to be fierce in Manchester.

The Commonwealth Games have developed into an unofficial World Championship, second only to that event in prestige.

In effect, it is a true Commonwealth sport as the top-ranked countries will all be present this summer.

Australia will defend their gold medal from last time round, but will face stiff competition from New Zealand's famed "Silver Ferns" team and England, who finished second and third respectively in Malaysia.

South Africa, Fiji and the burgeoning Caribbean countries - whose challenge will be led by Jamaica - are also in contention.

In all, 10 teams have qualifed for the Games and they are divided into two groups of five, with all the action taking place at the MEN Arena.

Australia, Fiji, South Africa, Jamaica and Barbados make up one pool and Sri Lanka, Wales, England, New Zealand and Canada are in the other.

The top three from each progress, then another two teams are eliminated in the next stage to leave the four semi-finalists.

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