Banyana Banyana's Refiloe Jane wants women's soccer taken off the sidelines
The Sowetan striker's goal is to gather as much support for women's football teams as there is for men's teams
The first experience of a football pitch for Banyana Banyana vice-captain Refiloe Jane was standing on the sidelines fetching the ball when one of her brothers kicked it off the field. Instead of throwing it back into play, she'd always insist on kicking it, and slowly her ball skills developed until she was confident enough to step onto the pitch as a player.
The striker grew up in Soweto, the youngest of four kids, playing soccer with her brothers in her back yard. At six years old she went to find her own team and until she was 23, played only for male soccer teams based in Pimville, Soweto.
It was at a Future Champions Tournament in 2009 that Jane got noticed and became passionate about professional soccer. She won the annual tournament's talent search, beating 1,000 other children, most of them boys. Later that year she travelled to Manchester, England, to train with the Manchester City and Everton girls' teams. She was 16 years old.
Jane started playing for Banyana Banyana in 2012 and has played in two Olympic Games, won two Women's Africa Cup of Nations medals and scored twice in the final of a Cosafa Cup. She is part of a small group of Banyana players to have reached 100 caps.
Now, home from the Fifa Women's World Cup in June, Jane is determined to gather as much support for the women's team as there is for men's teams.
"We are sponsored by Sasol in partnership with Safa," she says, "and there are perks that come with playing for the national team, like getting scholarships, endorsements and recognition, but it would make all the difference if we got the same media coverage as the men's teams, if players got profiled, games were shown on TV (and not just the big international ones) and spectator attendance increased."
When I watch sports, I don't care about gender or age. If the players are playing well, it is exciting to watchRefiloe Jane, soccer player
Jane is an avid spectator of sports herself: "When I watch sports, I don't care about gender or age. If the players are playing well, it is exciting to watch."
She still has to put up with sexist behaviour as a sportsperson. "There are many men who still don't think that women should be able to play the same sports as men or that we should be equally compensated. But we represent our country, just like the men's teams do, and play in big international tournaments doing our best to represent our country.
"Equal efforts should be equally compensated. Gender should not be a reason why some teams are not taken seriously," she says.
In pursuit of her dream, Jane has become used to juggling tasks, having had to strike a balance between her life as a master's student at Tshwane University of Technology and her soccer career. She also has a sports management and sports science company, Boipelo Sporting.
She says studying and planning for life after a sports career is critical for an aspiring footballer: "You can get an injury any time; you need to have a back-up plan."
• Jane won the South African sports personality of the year award at the 2018 Gauteng Sports Awards.