Kick up bucks for women with balls

CityPress - - Voices - Janet Heard voices@city­press.co.za Fol­low me on Twit­ter @janet­heard

Banyana Banyana go up against Swe­den at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro on Au­gust 3, the day of our lo­cal elec­tions. When the play­ers take to the field, they will be un­der­re­sourced and ne­glected – much like the rats-and-mice political par­ties strug­gling for our at­ten­tion against the dom­i­nant play­ers on elec­tion day.

It will be a feat if the na­tional women’s soccer team get to their sec­ond con­sec­u­tive Olympics at all. A month ago, coach Vera Pauw put out her beg­ging bowl. Ap­peal­ing to Fik­ile “Mr Razzmatazz” Mbalula to ex­tend a fi­nan­cial life­line to women’s soccer, she said: “My big call is to the min­is­ter of sport. Help us – not after­wards, not at an awards cer­e­mony. In­stead of awards, help us pre­pare.”

She said the team had al­ready lost five weeks of prepa­ra­tion be­cause of a lack of funds for a na­tional camp.

Since then, foot­ball as­so­ci­a­tion Safa was re­port­edly due to give the team a few mil­lion rands to at least com­plete their prepa­ra­tions, and test their skills in friendly matches.

The team has sol­diered on, clutch­ing on to sup­port from solo spon­sor Sa­sol, which created a league in 2009 to nur­ture women’s foot­ball from club level up­wards.

De­spite dis­par­i­ties in fund­ing and de­vel­op­ment com­pared with men’s soccer, Banyana have not per­formed badly. Ranked a few notches higher than Bafana, the team has pro­duced su­per­star Por­tia Modise – the first African to score more than 100 in­ter­na­tional goals. She de­liv­ered a 41m won­der strike for Banyana in the 2012 Olympics be­fore re­tir­ing last year.

Imag­ine how the qual­ity of women’s soccer would im­prove if sport­ing bod­ies did not just pay lip ser­vice to eq­uity; if they sup­ported a proper pro­fes­sional league with spon­sors and live broad­casts.

But from my nar­row ex­pe­ri­ence as a soccer mom, trans­for­ma­tion and de­vel­op­ment need to be­gin at school level. My daugh­ter, Ella, had the op­por­tu­nity to learn soccer six years ago, but it was dur­ing a one-year fam­ily stay in the US, where girls’ soccer is taken se­ri­ously and is pay­ing off, with the US women’s team the cur­rent World Cup champs.

In South Africa, girls’ soccer is an af­ter­thought on most school cal­en­dars – if of­fered at all – and an also-ran at award cer­e­monies. Even when a school shows com­mit­ment, as is the case now where Ella, aged 14, plays de­fence for her high school’s only girls’ team, it is a bat­tle to find com­pet­i­tive teams for matches.

But the girls press on with pas­sion and gusto, just like the Banyana women who, at 6pm on elec­tion day, will give their all for their coun­try.

Even if the pow­ers that be fail them, there is time for us to get be­hind them.

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