THE BIG READ: Let's hear it for girls
In just two weeks Banyana Banyana, the women's football team in South Africa, head off to London to compete for Olympic gold. It's a moment of great national pride; only two African women's teams are among the 12 nations competing, all of whom have beaten strong competitors on the long road to qualification. However, so far, the fanfare and support for this outstanding accomplishment has been very quiet.
Of course, Banyana Banyana are not the only women competing under the South African flag in London. Yet for such a fanatical football nation, it seems especially odd that the media and country have been mostly silent. Had it been Bafana Bafana on their way to the global event, we would no doubt be following the exciting journey through daily newspaper updates, loud public demonstrations of support, and even special advertisements wishing the boys great luck.
This is just one example of how achievements of women and girls in sport tend to go unnoticed. It is also a symptom of a larger problem of gender transformation within sport. The Commission for Gender Equality is currently investigating this very issue within the football community.
Two weeks ago, South African Football Association president Kirsten Nematandani answered questions on progress in promoting women's football in the country, posed by the CGE following a complaint levelled by the South African Women's Football Association.
"One of the complaints is that Safa has failed to legally recognise Sawfa as a credible member within the Safa umbrella body, and that inadequate measures are being put in place to support and promote women's football," said Janine Hicks, commissioner with the CGE.
"Sawfa also alleged that in findings of previous hearings, such as the Soccer Indaba of 1997 and the Football Commission of 2002, there were specific resolutions related to women's football that Safa has not taken forward."
The original complaint specifically focused on Sawfa's role within Safa, but after a process of correspondence and mediation, the CGE broadened the investigation to look at transformation in women's football in general.
In responding to queries about sponsorship and support as part of development, Nematandani cited several examples of corporate sponsorship, such as the Absa and Sasol Leagues, funding of Banyana Banyana, the now defunct FNB and Nike leagues, as well as Fifa and lottery funds.
However, the hearing came just a day after The Times reported a huge pay discrepancy between male and female national teams. The report noted that Bafana Bafana players receive return tickets to games, and are paid between R1500 and R2000 per training session and salaries of about R70000. On the other hand, Banyana Banyana players had to pay their own way to matches, received R500 per training session and were paid R5000 if they won and R2500 for a draw.
According to Nematandani, one of the key problems is that sponsoring companies prefer the market value associated with men's football.
"We need corporate South Africa to come in. We are looking for sponsors, but it's not easy," he said.
"When corporates put money in, they want to know what's in it for them. There has been a belief that women's football may not be able to bring the necessary exposure.
Of course this makes sense. Companies, whether they be newspapers or sponsors, need exposure to justify revenue spent on advertising. Perhaps then the question is, how can the national broadcaster lend support to ensure this exposure? And what are national bodies doing to encourage the fan base and following that would attract this limelight?
During the hearing, Nematandani also pointed out that it will take time to address gender inequality in a sport that is traditionally male dominated. True.
Yet, back to the question of how successes are celebrated - where is the limelight for Banyana Banyana's exciting journey to the Olympics, which is every athlete's dream?
For Sawfa's deputy president Molegadi Molelekoa, a vital starting point is ensuring that women's interests are represented within the Safa body.
"It is not about filling spaces with women. It is about having someone who will promote women's interests within Safa," Molelekoa said.
While the investigation focuses on soccer, there's little doubt that the same sorts of issues are replicated in other women's sporting arenas. The CGE is already planning to take up the findings, insights, challenges, and any best practices that we see today, and take them forward.
While the challenge of promoting women and girls in sport may not be a simple one, as Nematandani also stated, we must all ask ourselves what we are doing to change the situation. With the Olympics just around the corner, let's start with blowing vuvuzelas loud and clear for Banyana Banyana.
- Onyejieke is the coordinator of Youth Fit Africa and Walter is the Director of CMFD Productions