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Making the Super League: “We have power. We need to change the system that we exist in as women and sport is the most powerful entity to do that.”

Seven-and-a-half years after joining Netball Scotland and forming Strathclyde Sirens, Claire Nelson believes she is only just getting started in netball.

The CEO of both the National Governing Body and the Netball Super League Club, Nelson also sits on the NSL Board.

She has built a netball brand that is not only successful in the sport but that also resonates with women and shows their power.

“When I joined in October 2015, I came in really focused on repositioning netball and the governing body. I wanted to show the power of a female audience and how we could harness that to grow our sport,” she said.

“It wasn’t about whether we were winning medals or where sponsorship money was currently sitting, it was about the power and potential that a female sport with a female audience could have and should have.

“We knew that if we were really going to transform our sport and realise its potential that having a Scottish franchise back in the Super League was important to us.

“Seven-and-a-half years later, it’s been really challenging, however, we’re so proud of what we have built here.”

Strathclyde Sirens joined the NSL in 2017 and Nelson has since become a shining example of a woman in sports administration.

However, she admits that she still feels disappointed when she compares what has been possible to achieve in a women’s sport compared with the likes of men’s sport, and in particular football.

She added: “A word that is often used by women working in the business of sport is frustration.

“Even when you’re sitting with partners and sponsors, I feel like I just have to work and sell so much harder for less.

“We aren’t just offering transactional sponsorships of money for kit logos and branding. When I meet a potential partner I do all of my research into their brand and come to the table with creative activations that benefit all parties, fans and communities. We co-create new programmes to improve health and wellbeing, or we work together to tackle inequalities or reduce gender pay gaps. We want to use our sport to make a sustainable and meaningful impact.

“It’s a lot of work, important work, but for significantly lower sums than in men’s sport.”

A vital element for the success of netball is the willingness of people to pull together, and with a majority female organisation and board, that also means supporting women in every facet of their lives.

“If we look at our players, and even our coaches and our staff, and how flexible we are, what we try and do is create opportunities for people to be able to thrive regardless of what their personal position is.

“That, for me, is the fundamentals of whether you’re building a netball team or whether you’re building an organisation.

“When you offer flexibility, particularly with mothers, and you allow a woman to parent the way she wants to, you will get everything and more out of them professionally.

“What that also does is put out there really important messages to women. We want to be part of changing that system and we know that we can do that by telling those stories.”

For Nelson, the telling of those stories – including Scotland’s captain Claire Maxwell’s return from pregnancy or Iona Christian and Emily Nicholl’s time spent training overseas – is not just about promoting a brand, it is about building a better society.

She explained: “We have power, what we need to do is change the system that we exist in and sport is the most powerful entity to do that.

“We should be harnessing that power, that passion, that platform to start to take our knowledge and expertise and make the world a better place, a fairer place.

“We should be working with other women’s sports as a collective to say, ‘This is how we make a difference, and this is how we make a more equitable society.”

The Netball Super League’s spotlight series Strong Women Supporting Strong Women: Making the Super League will continue throughout April to celebrate some of the women behind the scenes of the league, who are driving netball forward boldly, unapologetically and fearlessly. You can read more stories here.

Follow the Netball Super League on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok. Keep up with all the latest news by signing up to the NSL newsletter here.

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