Janet Heard

Let's back Banyana Banyana

2016-06-21 10:41

Janet Heard

Banyana Banyana go up against Sweden at the Olympics in Rio on the day of local elections, 3 August. When the players take to the field, they will be under-resourced and neglected - much like the rats-and-mice political parties struggling for our attention against the dominant players on Election Day.

It will be a feat that the national women’s soccer team get to their second consecutive Olympics at all. A month ago, coach Vera Pauw put out her begging bowl. Appealing to “Mr Razzmatazz” Fikile Mbalula to extend a financial lifeline to women’s soccer, she said: “My big call is to the minister of sport. Help us, not afterwards, not at an awards ceremony. Instead of awards, help us prepare.”

She said the team had already lost five weeks of preparation because of a lack of funds for a national camp.
Since then, the SA Football Association was reportedly due to give the team a few million rand to at least complete their preparations, and test their skills in friendly matches.

The team has soldiered on, clutching on to support from solo sponsor Sasol, which created a League in 2009 to nurture women’s football from club level upwards.

Despite disparities in funding and development compared with men’s soccer, Banyana has not performed badly. Ranked a few notches higher than Bafana, the team has produced superstar Portia Modise - the first African to score more than 100 international goals. She delivered a 45-yard wonder strike for Banyana in the 2012 Olympics before retiring last year. Imagine how the quality of women’s soccer would improve if sporting bodies didn’t just pay lip service to equity, if they supported a proper professional league with sponsors and live broadcasts.

But from my narrow experience as a soccer mom, transformation and development needs to begin at school level. My daughter, Ella, had the opportunity to learn soccer six years ago, but it was during a one-year family stay in the United States, where girls’ soccer is taken seriously and is paying off with the US women’s team the current World Cup champs.

In South Africa, girls’ soccer is an afterthought on most school calendars - if offered at all - and an also-ran at award ceremonies. Even when a school shows commitment, as is the case now where Ella, aged 14, plays defence for her high school’s only girls team, it is a battle to find competitive teams for matches.

But the girls press on with passion and gusto, just like the Banyana women, who at 18:00 on Election Day will give their all for their country.

Even if the powers that be fail them, there is time for us to get behind them.

- Heard is Media24 parliamentary editor

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    banyana banyana  |  local elections 2016

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