In keeping with the theme of Women’s Month, I thought I would give my two cents’ worth on an issue that I have preached about for a long time: The state of women’s football in South Africa. This is something that a lot of people want to talk about, but choose to turn a blind eye to. An issue that makes even those at the top of the hierarchy uncomfortable. For years there has been a shout for a functional, professional league for the ladies in our country. But somehow we still do not have one.
Photo credit: WESSEL OOSTHUIZEN / SASPA
If you look at the games that Banyana Banyana have already played at the on-going Olympic Games, you’ll notice the distinct difference between them and the teams they have faced. What is this difference you ask? Professional leagues. We cannot compete against all those nations that take their women’s football seriously if we do not do so ourselves. It is on the rise the world over, and we need to catch up. We need to make use of all these facilities that we always claim to have. Granted that we have the Sasol Regional leagues that come together at the end for the play-offs, but is it enough to match their male counterparts? Emphatically no! We always slam Bafana Bafana for not producing results, but we cannot do that with Banyana. We are now forced to take anything they give us because we have to consider that they are not full professionals.
Photo credit: WESSEL OOSTHUIZEN / SASPA
When you watch girls like Jermaine Seoposenwe and Stephanie Malherbe play, you can see that they play in the United States, in a league that is well oiled. They are not only in tip-top shape physically, but they are tactically and technically sound. Speaking of the USA, I also remember a few months ago when women players took US Soccer (the FA) to court over wage disputes. We all know that traditionally their male team has been below par internationally, and the women’s team has been a quadrennial phenomenon. They have won the World and Olympic titles, but somehow still earn way less than the male team. Allegedly as less as 40% inferior.
The five players, namely Hope Solo, Carli Lloyd, Becky Sauerbrunn, Alex Morgan and midfielder Megan Rapinoe argued that based on their success as the best in the world, they naturally are US Soccer’s main source of revenue. So they are short-changed by the association. They are right. They should be paid more than the men’s team.
I make reference to that story because that is just one of the prejudices that women in sport have to face all over the world. When Vera Pauw first came to South Africa, the first thing she tried to fight for was the establishment of a league, but she was forced to make do with what she has. And she has done extremely well. She knew that in Europe that is the standard. If you look at the English Premier League clubs, all of them have a women’s team. Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, etc play each other week in and week out. I find it hard to understand why we cannot have the same thing. Why can’t our big clubs adopt the same method? I am not saying we cannot have clubs like the JvW and UJ, but they need to be competitive.
In 2013, statistics showed that female sports do not carry the same weight as the male ones. According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, male athletes received $179 million more than females in sports scholarships each year. Additionally, collegiate institutions spent just 24% of their athletic operating budgets on female sports, as well as just 16% of recruiting budgets and 33% of scholarship budgets on female athletes. These are shocking numbers.
We need to invest in women’s sport as much as we do the men. This is a challenge to corporate South Africa to dig deep and stop making noise about Women’s Day celebrations without putting their money where their mouths are. The day of Lillian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Charlotte Maxeke, and Ellen Khuzwayo are gone. ‘Tis the time to really support our women in all walks of life and sport is a very big part of that.