South Africa is a great country. We have democratic elections every five years without major issues. We have successfully hosted the biggest sport events on planet Earth and whites and blacks are coming together as one unified rainbow nation. It is not a rare site to see members of a rugby union attending a soccer match or to see a soccer team attending a cricket match. We are moving away from old views and old terms such as “white sports” and “black sports”. In South Africa black, white, minority and pink groups are all moving forward in one direction.
Well...at least that is what some would have you believe.
As I mentioned earlier, it appears there is a proactive effort from franchises and clubs in South Africa's “big three sports” to publicly show their support for each other, thereby breaking down racial barriers and previously held views of the people involved in the sports, etcetera and so on. A soccer example is Kaizer Chiefs Football Club recently starting a Sevens rugby team (I wrote a humourous piece about #ChiefsRugby too).
This is a very good initiative in my opinion. This move allows the club to diversify and generate higher revenue through the sale of rugby replica jerseys and has the possibility of attracting even more lucrative sponsorships contracts. The launch will also increase brand awareness and improve the brand image to most South Africans as a club willing break barriers and embrace the South Africa.
"We are bridging the gap and taking the brand further,” said the beautiful marketing director Jessica Motaung following the launch.
When one takes a look at the history of local football, one cant help but be proud to see how far a previously disadvantaged soccer club has progressed from the dusty soccer fields in Soweto the plush rugby fields in George. But I can't help but notice “the gap” that there is still very real gap in our country for another previously – in my opinion, still – disadvantaged group. I am referring to the women in our football.
It is interesting to note that Chiefs - a large, and powerful South African soccer institution - made a move to “diversify” by moving into rugby instead of (or before) investing time and resources into forming a female football team to compete in the SASOL Women's league first.
In the times we live in, there is plenty of rhetoric regarding the empowerment of women and equalization of opportunities as far as gender goes. I am bit surprised that a club that has a woman in a powerful position decided to invest in a different sporting code without having a female football team barely a year after the female national soccer team (Banyana Banyana) were the only soccer representatives at the London Olympics. The same Banyana team finished as runners up in continental championships too. The same Banyana players struggle to get decent competition in local leagues due to individual and powerful groups' failure to invest in and build women's football at faster pace.
Do we need women's football to sink to the levels of Bafana Bafana before we have a serious concerted effort for all role players to contribute in anyway they can?
It is now 2013 and although there is a greater public appreciation for the need for development structures for Bafana to succeed, not much is being done in that aspect. How much longer will it take for development of the women's game to take effect? Big companies are not exactly falling over themselves to inject funding into the women's game. Government, more specifically our current sport minister, Mr Fikile Mbalula, are not on TV constantly raising the issue of the development of the women's game. Surprisingly, even female supporters of the game have not been very candid about the lack of female teams for their respective favourite clubs.
I can't help but wish at the boardroom meeting whereby it was decide to form a rugby team that Kaizer Motaung had whispered similar words of advice to his child as he claims his father said him when he wanted to form Kaizer Chiefs:
“You know what, I think you should go ahead with your plans to form this team because I am also sick and tired of all these problems...”
The lack of effort into the women's game is frustrating, even as a man. For example, in celebration of August being Women’s month, the Chiefs marketing team put together an entertainment line-up that “pays tribute to the women of South Africa”, which included a curtain raiser featuring the Kaizer Chiefs Female Celebrity Team. Hmmm... Notice the irony.
In the current environment, the team that I support, Moroka Swallows, deserve a pat on the back for at least having a female team. But even they seem to be focused on the men's side of the game. The website fails to even update visitors about their women's football. The words "coming soon" are still present on their "new and improved" site.
Before you rushing on to spew bile in the comments section, please take not that the aim of this piece is not to attack Kaizer Chiefs, Moroka Swallows or any other person/group. The aim is to alert people to the fact that women's football has no chance of succeeding if those within football circles do not bother to give it the attention and effort it deserves.
There are many issues that need to be tackled to take women's football to another level.
My plea is for all professional teams to have a female team competing in the women's leagues.
My very basic recommendation to those in power is for legislation to require football clubs to have a female football team as part of the requirement to receive their PSL grant. If legislation backs up rhetoric, we will finally see action.
To use Jessica Motaung words, it is now time to “bridge the gap” between men's and women's football.
Please follow me on twitter @Tom_18Yards for SA football discussion