Side Entry: It’s time rugby focused on neglected women’s game

Simnikiwe Xabanisa
Simnikiwe Xabanisa

There was something world champion about the sneers the South African rugby public reserved for the national women’s sevens team following their 40-0 defeat to their New Zealand counterparts at the Cape Town Sevens last weekend.

No doubt imbued with the sheen of newly minted world champion supporters, the locals had a go at Imbokodo – as the women’s sevens are known these days – for their supposed “ineptitude” in losing their group game to the series defending champions, who have won five of a possible seven titles since the inception of the women’s competition.

The subsequent 31-12, 27-5 and 19-7 defeats to Russia, Fiji and Spain, respectively, can’t have helped the growing narrative that former Blitzboks and Stormers player Paul Delport’s charges were at the Cape Town Stadium as much for the sun as the fans were.

It’s not a very South African thing to go sifting for positives in the immediate aftermath of defeat, so Imbokodo got no sympathy for being plucky but outgunned in their Cape Town Sevens debut.

In all earnest, they deserved an arm around their collective shoulder to encourage them to keep going despite the ridiculous obstacles they have to scale just to get on to a playing field.

The women’s team were scratched from the Dubai event, which was held a week before Cape Town, due to lack of funds.

Not making it to events because of a shortage of money is so prevalent that one suspects the only reason they made it to Green Point was because they’re based in Stellenbosch.

At this juncture, a background on the women’s sevens team’s finances is probably due. Just over a year ago, the renewal of their contracts went six weeks beyond the deadline, thanks to a clerical error caused by a change of positions and handover at SA Rugby.

It’s the kind of mistake one doesn’t imagine happening with the Springboks or the Blitzboks teams.

Imbokodo’s story is a classic case of South Africa’s dismissive relationship with women.

Not that there was a pot of gold awaiting Imbokodo at the end of all the unnecessary upheaval, if the annual figures of the salary structures from the year before are anything to go by.

From a total expenditure of R101.6 million on player salaries by SA Rugby that year, the women’s sevens team only got just under R3 million (R2 877 600) of that pie while the Blitzboks (22 players) commanded almost R14 million, with the Springbok team taking a lion’s share of close to R85 million.

The R3 million was shared among 13 contracted women’s sevens players, the lowest salary being R184 800, the average remuneration at R221 354 and the highest women’s package costing SA Rugby R264 000.

Contrast that with the men’s sevens side’s numbers, which saw their highest earner on R1.1 million, their average annual salary R630 000 and their lowest remuneration being R120 000 (an academy contract for players straight out of school).

Yet we expect them to be world beaters like the Blitzboks.

Imbokodo - the SA Sevens Women's team. Picture: Gallo Images

Imbokodo’s story is a classic case of South Africa’s dismissive relationship with women. If the parents aren’t forbidding their daughters from playing rugby, the administrators show little interest in the women’s game.

The SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee has forbidden them from qualifying for the Olympics through the World Rugby’s way, which is winning the African qualifiers.

They won the tournament a couple of months ago but had to give the spot to second-placed Kenya because the Olympic body insists on their qualifying through the World Sevens Series, the majority events which they can’t attend due to the aforementioned money issue.

Delport is trying to short-circuit the whole thing by recruiting pure athletes from other sporting codes, as was the case with Olympic sprinter Alyssa Conley, but with the money situation and no chance of competing in the Olympics, it’s not like he has many carrots to entice them with.

Here’s hoping the world championship mentality, which facilitated the Springboks’ quick turnaround from a hopeless team just a couple of years ago, filters down to the neglected women’s game.

Follow me on Twitter @simxabanisa

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