Give women a sporting chance

The Beijing Olympics are exposing viewers to the talent of Marta Vieira da Silva, a 22-year-old Brazilian who believes she was born to play football.

The prodigy captured headlines when she represented Brazil in 2002 at the Fifa under-19 championship in Canada.

Marta is Fifa’s 2006 and 2007 Women’s Footballer of the Year. She enthralled millions during the 2008 Women’s World Cup.

For the Brazilians, a World Cup championship or Olympic gold means recognition for women footballers by their country and its football federation, which ploughs resources into men’s football.

Marta’s battle goes beyond the field of play; it is about support and development of women’s football in Brazil.

Similarly, South Africa’s sportswomen struggle for recognition. They are in a contest for resources and support.

Marta’s status in women’s football comes after struggling for the right of women to participate in their chosen sport. She found the support she wants in Sweden where she plays in the national league.

It is awesome when a sportswoman rises from a poverty-stricken life and lands on the world stage. Largely ignored and almost rejected by Brazil, Marta has demonstrated what she is capable of.

It’s one thing to create opportunities to bring disadvantaged girls into sport, but they have to be assisted financially and socially so they can realise their potential.

Few South African sportswomen have sponsors, endorsement packages or are interviewed by the media.

While we applaud our sportsmen, we ask, how much longer will our women continue to be ignored?

After all, women also buy cars, airtime, houses, use airlines, financial institutions, support supermarkets and other businesses. Yet businesses continue to ignore sportswomen.

Make no mistake, government and corporates are aware of the inequalities in sports spending. Yet few assist with sponsorship.

Men control sport, not only in South Africa, but around the world.

Few men in sport challenge the deprived position of women. Most never consider it; others remember to mention it when it suits them.

There are men who are genuinely concerned about women in sport. But the majority of them prop up a patriarchal society where men are dominant.

This means sportsmen have to share the blame for marginalising women in sport.

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