You throw like a girl: The plight of SA sportswomen

Men have always dominated the sports media realm, be it on the back page of daily newspapers or yelled at on our television screens every weekend as we sip on beverages in the comfort of our living rooms.

The average South African sports lover will easily be able to rattle off the names of several national sporting team captains with relative ease — provided these players are men.

However, if you asked them which teams Amanda Dlamini or Mandisa Williams captain, you’d more often than not see a glazed expression settle in.

In truth, it’s a tough task being a South African sportswoman as the vast majority of women’s sport is largely amateur and plays second fiddle to their male counterparts.

Due to a lack of funding and media coverage, women teams face a bleak future as the country’s best talent is lost when players turn their back on the game.

“It’s a challenge, I’ll admit that. We want equity when it comes to governance of sport; we want equity on the field of play and we need to continue to raise the awareness around women sport,” Gideon Sam told the Mail & Guardian, president of South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc).

Sascoc vice president Hajera Kajee currently heads the gender equity in sport commission, which encourages all South African sporting federations to nurture the development of women sport.

It is hoped that by actively encouraging federations to put women’s sport at the top of their agendas, there will be a knock-on effect leading to immediate development. In the same breath, however, Sam said it’s not as easy as merely setting out equality as the goal.

“Only by giving exposure to sport on the different media platforms are we going to make it easier for women’s sport to get support,” Sam said.

As much as Sam would like to see more women’s sport featured in the media, the reality is that it is not happening.

Supersport, South Africa’s satellite sports network, admitted that while there is more coverage of male sports on their platforms, it is not “by design”.

“SuperSport doesn’t specifically cater for ‘men’s’ or ‘women’s’ sport. All rights are considered on an even basis, taking into account price, popularity and status of the event. That said, there is an unintentional skew towards traditional men’s sports, simply because these are more on offer to broadcasters,” SuperSport communications manager Clinton van den Berg told the M&G.

Van den Berg said it was not only women’s sports which face challenges in terms of gaining exposure and securing sponsorships but rather a variety of sporting codes “get squeezed out” by football, rugby and cricket.

“Women’s sport needs to fight for its corner as much as any other,” he said.

Public broadcaster SABC said they “go out of their way” to cover as much women’s sports as possible and have recently renewed broadcast contracts with the South African Football Association to ensure that all Banyana Bayana games are televised.

“As a public service broadcaster we need to expose all national teams and attempt to do so wherever we can, but we don’t necessarily differentiate between men’s and women’s sports,” SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago told the M&G.

Kganyago argued that the SABC faces challenges in providing coverage to sports teams and codes that don’t come with a “full package” of sponsorship funding and corporate assistance like Bafana Bafana.

“It’s a difficult position we find ourselves in as the SABC has to fund and sponsor certain sports that don’t attract funding and it’s a big challenge,” Kganyago said.

As Kganyago explained, it is difficult to land funding for any sports team nowadays, be it male or female, as corporates go for the easiest way to turn their marketing budget into tangible returns.

Vodacom, one of the biggest corporate sport sponsors in South Africa said while attempts are made to ensure sponsorships are “mutually beneficial”, they still remain a “commercial endeavour”.

“Obviously sports with the biggest audiences offer us the best prospects of a commercial return. This is the key determining factor for us as a marketing organisation,” Enzo Scarcella, head of Vodacom marketing told the M&G.

It is within this environment that sports teams struggle to secure sponsorships and funding, as little to no media coverage equates to the same amount of financial aid.

Fran Hilton-Smith, technical director of women soccer at Safa, told the M&G that women’s sport in South Africa is faced with a “chicken versus egg” scenario.

“If you have no product, you don’t have sponsors or coverage, but if you don’t have sponsors or coverage you’ll never have a product. Sponsors in general need to put faith in women sport,” Hilton-Smith said.

Hilton-Smith said while it’s difficult for sponsors to fund an endeavour without the prospect of guaranteed returns, opportunities must be given to women’s sports.

“Women’s sport will never attract as much money or sponsorships as men sport — that’s a fact. But funding can come from sponsors with a more women-centred approach like those selling women’s products or services,” Hilton-Smith said.

Hilton-Smith noted the recent success of Banyana Banyana since Sasol came on board as a sponsor before their qualification for the London Olympics.

But it’s often not as easy as simply putting together a good product and patiently waiting until the right sponsor comes along.

Netball is South Africa’s second most followed sporting code, following soccer, in terms of active participants and fans but the national side still lacks a comprehensive sponsor and hardly any games make it onto TV.

“I don’t understand how people can think women’s sport is not marketable or exciting. It is an untapped market and it certainly won’t change until that mind-set changes,” said South Africa netball team coach Elize Kotze.

Kotze said the lack of sponsors and funding automatically leads to talented players pursuing other professional interests in order to survive.

“The sad thing is that we lose depth and experience because people can’t survive only being a netball player. At the moment we have the best netball player in the world in Erin Burger, but she still pays for her own kit and fully funds her own endeavours,” Kotze explained.

Another example is 25-year-old star Banyana forward Noko Matlou.

The proverbial Pele of South African women’s soccer is a prolific striker, who scores from any position, with her impressive 51 goals in 60 appearances for Banyana testament to that fact. But due to women’s soccer players not being paid as handsomely as their male counterparts, if at all, Matlou is only one of hundreds of talented female soccer players relying on their enthusiasm to sustain them.

“It’s the heart and love of the game that keeps us going. When we play for our country it’s for pride and honour and not for money,” the 2011 sportswoman of the year winner told the M&G.

Nonetheless, Matlou is one of the lucky ones because she is currently considering offers from soccer clubs in the United States, Germany and Russia, in the hopes of securing a lucrative contract when she finalises her studies.

“I know I have had to struggle but I know in my heart it’s what I want to do, so I will never stop playing soccer — no matter how difficult it gets,” said Matlou.

Matlou’s sentiment is echoed by Kass Naidoo, South Africa’s first female cricket commentator and co-founder of gsport, an online initiative launched in 2006 to raise the profile of South African sportswomen and encourage corporates to develop women sports.

Naidoo said relying on third parties to save women’s sports is futile and it’s up to sportswomen themselves to ensure women sports succeed in South Africa.

“There’s no upside to complaining about actual or perceived disparities between men’s and women’s sport, the only option is to get involved. Without the efforts of women, men and children across the country, very few women’s sport events would occur at all,” she told the M&G.

“Some contributors make the limited impact they can, while others stand out by their glowing example of just what can be achieved with the right motivation and support,” she said.

Naidoo called on all South African sportswomen who are disheartened by the current status quo to “make adversity their friend” and take all opportunities with open arms.

“Whatever our circumstances, we can determine our destiny. If every woman in sport did something every day to make a difference to the game, we will see significant change,” Naidoo said.


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