Women’s league in Safa limbo

Despite the launch of the professional women’s football league being potentially only a matter of months away, precious little is known about it — even among the teams scheduled to compete.

Several coaches and senior club officials said the South African Football Association (Safa) had communicated very few details to them, leaving them in the dark.

Safa announced its intention to launch a national women’s league in April, but now may once again backtrack on its promise. During a meeting with editors last week, Safa president Danny Jordaan said the start date might be pushed back to August to allow Banyana Banyana to focus on preparing for the Fifa Women’s World Cup.

“Already we have an issue as to whether we should launch the national league in May, and they [clubs] release players to go to the World Cup,” Jordaan said. “That won’t give a good competitive impression of the league. We are considering that, shouldn’t we wait for the World Cup to be over and then launch the league? So that we can have all the star players back.”

The announcement has seemingly taken many of the aspirant players by surprise, and some have questioned why they have not been kept informed so they can better prepare for the season.

Tshwane University of Technology coach Tebogo Mokae, whose side won the Sasol League National Championship in December, said the 12 clubs that have qualified for the league were to have had a meeting with Safa to discuss how the league would be run, but they have not heard from the association.

“I don’t have a problem with the league starting in August, but we haven’t received any communication from Safa about it,” he said. “It makes sense for me to have the league start after the Fifa World Cup, because some of the teams will have up to four players in Banyana Banyana’s preparation camps, [so] how would those teams catch up to the others?”

Mokae’s concern is that his players will become rusty while waiting for the league to kick off in August.

“They must give us an idea of what we must do in the meantime. We can’t be sitting idle until then. Maybe we can send some of the players on loan to the Sasol teams for them to keep active until the league starts. It’s important that they let us know, because this hampers our preparations for the league.”

The meeting with Safa is expected to take place soon now that Banyana have concluded their start-of-year friendlies.

Concerns about the lack of a women’s professional league were brought to the forefront of the national conversation last week after the Mail & Guardian published an article revealing that members of the Banyana squad had not been paid the bonuses they were promised for their second-place finish at the Africa Women’s Cup of Nations. The players said they relied on such monies because they have no other source of income.

READ MORE: Banyana paid — Now it’s on to the football

The players were eventually paid on the Friday that the article was published.

Although some have maintained a cautious optimism that this could be the year the league finally launches, others are fed up with being left in the dark.

“We haven’t heard anything from the [Safa] president yet,” a senior official at one of the clubs told the M&G on condition of anonymity. “How can he [Jordaan] inform the journalists, but the people who are supposed to be aware of this are not aware? That’s the problem with Safa.”

Doubts that the league will kick off this year persist and have left the immediate future of women’s club football in doubt.

“My concern is we’ve been waiting for how long for this league; now it’s been moved,” the official continued. “What are we going to do from now until August?

“Even the players are asking us: ‘What’s happening? What’s going on?’ We don’t know. If you want to negotiate a salary for players, you don’t know what the stipend will be.”

Little is known about the format the league will adopt when it does eventually kick off. Twelve teams have qualified through recent tournaments and their service to the sport. Safa vice-president Ria Ledwaba has hinted that up to four other teams could be added in the inaugural competition, or over time.

One of the teams guaranteed a spot is the University of Johannesburg. The institution has invested greatly in women’s football in recent times and will hold trials at the beginning of February to usher new talent into the team.

Coach Jabulile Baloyi said that, although she is aware that the league may be pushed back, her team’s plans have been affected by the start date still being up in the air.

“We’ve been scouting [for] players that we’d like to bring on board but now we haven’t brought them in because we’re not sure whether the league is going to be officially played this year or not. It’s hard to plan properly,” she says.

“It’s not clear while waiting for the league if there will be any competition in between. Yes, the minister has given Safa a R5-million contribution towards the national league for three years, but I haven’t heard of any more sponsorship coming on board.”

Last week Sports Minister Tokozile Xasa pledged R5-million over three years towards the league, which amounts to R1.7-million a year.

Poor sponsorship is a universal concern.

Premier Soccer League spokesperson Luxolo September reckons it takes way more than that to run a club, let alone a league for three seasons.

“Football is expensive. There’s travelling, accommodation, players’ contracts, office staff and other things that need to be considered. Everyone oversimplifies things. The R1.5-million is not even a budget for one team in the MDC [Multichoice Diski Challenge],” said September.

Safa was unable to comment by the time of going to print.

With the women’s game growing exponentially in the country, everyone involved is increasingly eager for the full-time competition to kick off. Until it does, however, setbacks and failed promises will continue to eliminate young aspirants.

“It means I should tell these players, ‘don’t raise your hopes’,” the official said of the increased delay. “Go and look for jobs. Concentrate on your school. They [Safa] are not taking us seriously, so what can we do?”

This report is a collaboration between Kaya FM and the Mail & Guardian

Luke Feltham
Luke Feltham

Luke Feltham runs the Mail & Guardian's sports desk. He was previously the online day editor.

Busisiwe Mokwena
Busisiwe Mokwena
Busisiwe Mokwena is a sports journalist with multiple awards to her name. She covers all sports, from athletics to netball to road running, but her first love is football.
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