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In 2019, then Vice President of the Stockholm Netball club, Annika Nilsson, mentioned her father told her that a Swede, Martina Bergman Österberg, was the founder of Netball. While online history suggested the founders of basketball as the founders of Netball, investigation with the INF of the true origin of Netball confirmed Martina’s founding role. This was truly exciting for Swedish Netball and coincidentally the Stockholm Netball Club had played for 10 years at Gymnastik Idrottshögskolan (GIH), the school where Martina had studied 130 years earlier. 


At Netball Sweden we are immensely proud to be an important part in the history of Netball and to walk in Martina’s footsteps. We continue to work towards bringing deserved credit to Martina and her students Internationally and have established strong ties with GIH, the Bergman Österberg Union and World Netball in regard to this. 



"Other than the records held by Bergman Österberg as shown on their website, INF holds no further historical evidence reaching back so far.  INF can confirm, based on the Bergman Österberg evidence, that Madam Österberg is widely credited as being the founder of the sport of Net-ball. The first rules of Net-ball were developed and published by the Ling Association in 1901."


Christina Davidson

INF Secretariat

12th February, 2020

Madame Österberg


Updated history on the founding of Netball


Martina Bergman Österberg informally introduced basketball to her students in 1893, from which rules were modified to suit the principles of Ling gymnastics and to tailor a sport to women. 

Pivotal in the development of Netball was the recruitment of Ethel Adair Roberts (studied at Dartford from 1896-1898), who was tasked by Martina to create a standard set of rules for Netball, which was published by the Ling Association in 1901.


The first set of rules included;

  • baskets replaced by rings that had nets

  • scoring of goals instead of points

  • a goal circle for scoring goals

  • ‘throw ins’ for bringing a ball back into court play, inspired by hockey. 

  • netball as a ‘non-interference game’ where players were not allowed to push a ball out of a players hand or a player out of the way of the ball. 

  • use of a 8.6 inch diameter ball as per regulation football and a thus adjusted ring diameter of 15 inches. Along with the 10ft post height, these dimensions are still regulation today. 


It was Ethel Adair Roberts father who suggested adding a net to the ring on the goal post to make it easier for umpires to see a goal had been scored. As so many changes had been made from the American rules, and the baskets exchanged for rings with nets, the game was called Net Ball. In a 1904 modification the 3 second rule was adopted as a modification of the original 5 second rule. 


From England, netball spread to other countries in the British Empire. Variations of the rules and even names for the sport arose in different areas.


For more information on the history of netball including original documents for the information on this page see;






Born in 1849 in Hammarlunda, Sweden, Martina Bergman Österberg became a world renowned physical education instructor and women’s suffrage advocate.


After studying at Gynmastik- och idrottshögskolan (GIH – formerly CGI) Martina moved to London and founded the first physical education instructor’s college in England, to which only women were admitted. She invented the ‘gymslip’, controversial at the time but clothing suitable for women to wear while playing sports.


In1893, after witnessing basketball on a trip to the US, Martina informally introduced basket-ball to her students. This started the process for development of female suited adaptation of basketball, which  became known as Net-ball. While the oldest known records of netball exist in the Bergman Österberg Union archives and World Netball recognise Madame Österberg and her students as the founders of netball, the role of American basketball founders and American visitors to Madame Österberg college are most often published in the absence of Martina's name and her students.

Picture: Martina Bergman Österberg. Xylografi ur Idun 1890. Wikipedia.

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