There’s a place in the South African Football Association (Safa) structure that you don’t want to go — from a professional standpoint at least. A place where you’re made to feel forgotten, unheard and uncompensated.
It’s unfortunate that same place is also where our future stars undergo their most crucial stages of development.
Backroom staff working with Bantwana, the national women’s under-17 side, are allegedly in a constant battle to be paid for their work. Some said they have waited for months and the amount owed to them is only increasing. They accused Safa officials of nonchalantly dismissing their concerns and said that officials show no interest in the team or its members.
As junior women’s football takes a back seat to Banyana Banyana and the Fifa Women’s World Cup this year, Bantwana staff who spoke to the Mail & Guardian and Kaya FM said they are worried that they will be forgotten. They also said they are frustrated by the lack of communication from Safa about what is holding up their payments for the camps leading up to the Fifa Women’s U-17 World Cup in Uruguay last November.
“There are people who haven’t been paid for camps [held] in 2015. The system conveniently forgets to pay them,” said a staff member, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The amounts due to each individual range from R37 000 to R130 000.
Safa’s financial woes have been widely reported on of late, including in the M&G last month about Banyana not being paid promised bonuses for their second-place finish in the Africa Women’s Cup of Nations. The staff, however, insist that Bantwana’s situation is one of the worst at Safa.
The support staff include physio-therapists, doctors, coaches and kit managers. Those who spoke to the M&G said that, after the tournament ended in November, Safa gave assurances that they would be paid before it closed in mid-December.
“The agreement was that Safa won’t close without paying us, the latest being the week of the 16th of December,” another member of staff said. “They said we know that Safa depends on sponsors, therefore if sponsors don’t pay there are no funds.”
The employees alleged that, when they reach out to the team manager, they are referred to the accounts department.
“We have never had to deal with the accounts people before. Why are we sent there now?” said a third employee.
Although overdue monies remain front of mind, the backroom employees have faced no shortage of issues that arise from Safa’s seemingly apathetic attitude towards the U-17s.
No senior officials were there to greet them when they arrived at OR Tambo International Airport after the World Cup. The players were also promised they would receive the shirts they played in at the World Cup but that has not happened either.
“Sometimes these kids reach out to me and ask when they will receive their shirts and I don’t know what to say to them. I was really hoping they at least get these shirts because they don’t really have anything to show that they played in the World Cup,” one of the officials added.
Even before departing for Uruguay, the players and support staff were beginning to feel some of the tangible effects of the purported financial mismanagement by Safa. In late October, Bantwana were scheduled to book into the Protea Hotel in Roodepoort but were locked out because Safa had yet to pay the minimum amount required to book the rooms.
That venue, it turns out, is one of the dwindling options available to the team. “We don’t camp at other hotels because they want nothing to do with Safa. The reservations lady got in trouble with her bosses and was threatened with being fired.”
The Protea Hotel in question said the general manager employed at the time no longer works there and thus can’t comment on the situation.
Safa did not respond to requests for comment on any of the allegations made by the employees.
Most staff have remained with the side despite all the problems. Many say they have dedicated their lives to the sport and see it as an honour to be able to help to mould tomorrow’s Banyana Banyana stars.
“I go back because of the love and support I have for the girls and women’s football,” said one about support staff commitment to national teams. “I also go back because of the hope that Safa will be professional enough to keep their promises.”
A prominent position in one of South Africa’s national teams is prestigious and worth fighting for. At some point, however, the realities of life catch up when the financial compensation doesn’t follow.
One member of staff said: “I need the money so badly because I couldn’t pay my debit orders in December. I have to pay for my little sister’s registration and the university is closing. I’m the breadwinner at home.”
This report is a collaboration between Kaya FM and the Mail & Guardian