Women’s foot­ball fans, put your money where your mouth is

CityPress - - The 'sorry' State Of Women's Sports - Rus­sell Paul Paul is the act­ing CEO of Safa

As Safa, we are ex­tremely proud of Banyana Banyana’s first qual­i­fi­ca­tion for the Women’s World Cup, and we have re­ceived many con­grat­u­la­tory mes­sages – in­clud­ing one from Fifa, whose of­fi­cials are de­lighted at the progress of South African foot­ball.

Safa re­ceived a fur­ther boost to its in­ter­na­tional pro­file when Fifa opened its re­gional of­fice in South Africa and lo­cated it within Safa House at Nas­rec.

While we had hoped that these ele­ments would have re­sulted in a cel­e­bra­tion of foot­ball in gen­eral in our coun­try, in­stead – as we have be­come ac­cus­tomed to – some peo­ple, for what­ever rea­son, fo­cused on the dis­par­ity of pay be­tween male and fe­male ath­letes, a mat­ter that has ex­isted for years, beyond Safa’s ac­tual ex­is­tence.

Hav­ing said that, Safa sup­ports pro­mot­ing more women in its de­ci­sion­mak­ing struc­tures and the equal re­mu­ner­a­tion of women in gen­eral, and of women in sport in par­tic­u­lar.

This pay dis­par­ity in sport has its roots in the fact that men’s foot­ball – and sport in gen­eral around the world – en­joys a mul­ti­plic­ity of spon­sor­ship.

In con­trast, women’s foot­ball (and sport in gen­eral), in most cases, sur­vives on in­ter­nal fund­ing or a sin­gle spon­sor – in Safa’s case, Sa­sol.

This is fur­ther com­pounded by the SABC’s re­fusal to tele­vise women’s sport in gen­eral and foot­ball in par­tic­u­lar, re­sult­ing in spon­sors say­ing the sport is com­mer­cially unattrac­tive to them.

Tues­day was a his­toric day for South African foot­ball, and Safa in par­tic­u­lar. Com­ing 20 years af­ter Bafana Bafana par­tic­i­pated in their first World Cup in France, Banyana Banyana qual­i­fied for their first Women’s World Cup and will be tak­ing South Africa back to France in June.

Rather than be­ing able to cel­e­brate this mo­men­tous oc­ca­sion, Safa has had to fend off neg­a­tiv­ity from op­por­tunis­tic par­ties, me­dia chan­nels and oth­ers want­ing to have their voices heard. These par­ties are ques­tion­ing Safa’s com­mit­ment to women’s foot­ball and to Banyana Banyana in par­tic­u­lar.

Sud­denly, there are com­par­isons be­ing made about what the women are be­ing paid ver­sus their male coun­ter­parts – but only in South African foot­ball cir­cles. Cu­ri­ously, or for rea­sons known only to those pos­ing these ques­tions, the mat­ter has not been raised re­gard­ing rugby or cricket pay­ments made to male ver­sus women ath­letes.

Safa is by no means ad­vo­cat­ing that this anoma­lous is­sue be swept un­der the car­pet. But the tim­ing of the back­lash leaves a lot to be de­sired and begs an an­swer to the mo­ti­va­tion of the par­ties in­volved, since Safa does not want to spec­u­late on such mo­tives.

This is a so­ci­etal is­sue not only in South Africa, but in the world at large.

The cor­po­rate en­vi­ron­ment, by and large, is male-dom­i­nated and con­trolled, and gen­er­ally ap­pears to have lit­tle or no agenda or con­sid­er­a­tion for the ad­vance­ment of women’s sport. Sa­sol has been Safa’s only part­ner in re­spect of women’s foot­ball for the past nine years, and must be ap­plauded for its com­mit­ment to the em­pow­er­ment of women in foot­ball and to Safa in par­tic­u­lar.

Safa is the first to ac­knowl­edge that more needs to be done to cor­rect the im­bal­ances in our game.

Cur­rently, we are pay­ing the play­ers com­men­su­rate with the spon­sor­ships that we have been able to se­cure. De­spite the fact that we have been ap­proach­ing the mar­ket for many years now, try­ing to ac­quire greater in­put from cor­po­rate South Africa into women’s foot­ball, there have been no other par­ties com­ing for­ward.

Safa’s in­vest­ment in women’s foot­ball is un­par­al­leled. In 2016, we in­vested R52.1 mil­lion in women’s foot­ball. The Sa­sol spon­sor­ship did not cover the full por­tion; Safa’s con­tri­bu­tion to women’s foot­ball dur­ing this pe­riod was more than 50% of that amount. So, on what grounds are the arm­chair ex­perts ques­tion­ing Safa’s com­mit­ment to women’s foot­ball?

Broad­cast money largely as­sisted with this. In the cur­rent cli­mate, with­out any broad­cast money, this in­vest­ment from Safa will not be pos­si­ble and, as such, will ham­per the fur­ther growth of women’s foot­ball in this coun­try.

Get­ting back to the play­ing field and con­sid­er­ing the im­me­di­ate suc­cesses of Banyana Banyana, there are many op­por­tunists who now wish to seek as­so­ci­a­tion with this team and its suc­cess. We can only draw one con­clu­sion: the op­por­tunists are seek­ing as­so­ci­a­tion with a suc­cess­ful team and brand like Safa, which they didn’t be­lieve in be­fore, but now want to link their brand to for free ex­po­sure.

Safa is not in­ter­ested in hand­outs. If your heart is where it should be – with true com­mit­ment and sup­port for women’s foot­ball – make a long-term com­mit­ment to fund­ing it.

It is also im­por­tant to note that Safa in­vested heav­ily in the qual­i­fi­ca­tion phase of the Un­der-17 women’s na­tional team in an ef­fort to se­cure their qual­i­fi­ca­tion for the Fifa Un­der-17 World Cup. When this team even­tu­ally qual­i­fied for the cup, Safa had to again use its own re­sources (as the team re­mains with­out a spon­sor) to pro­vide prepa­ra­tion camps and matches for the team.

Among these matches were the Brics Tour­na­ment in South Africa, as well as Safa send­ing the team to Spain. On this oc­ca­sion, through the com­mit­ment of a for­eign com­pany – La Liga – Safa se­cured some sup­port, for which we re­main grate­ful. In ad­di­tion, Safa sent the team to Paraguay ear­lier, again at great ex­pense, to al­low them to par­tic­i­pate in more prepa­ra­tion matches.

But at the height of this team’s suc­cess, Safa found no will­ing South African cor­po­rate to put their hand up to of­fer sup­port for this team.

Such is Safa’s de­sire to build fur­ther on the cur­rent suc­cess, and in an ef­fort to main­tain the up­ward growth of the game in this coun­try, that it re­solved to es­tab­lish a na­tional women’s league next year. In­ter­est­ingly, de­spite all the op­por­tunists who now wish to of­fer “hand­outs”, not one of them has stepped up to the goal­posts and de­clared their com­mit­ment to sup­port this league fi­nan­cially.

Safa is on record as stat­ing that the ba­sic cost to run this league is about R40 mil­lion a year. Safa in­tends, with or with­out com­mer­cial back­ing, to forge ahead with the es­tab­lish­ment of this league for the good of women’s foot­ball. But it is Safa that ev­ery­one says is not com­mit­ted to women’s foot­ball. We would like to chal­lenge all cor­po­rates to em­bark on some in­tro­spec­tion about their true com­mit­ment to women in sport and specif­i­cally in foot­ball, and to hon­estly ask how they are com­mit­ted to mak­ing a dif­fer­ence in the lives of women and so­ci­ety at large.

“Gen­der equal­ity is not a women’s is­sue; it is a hu­man is­sue. It af­fects us all.” – Au­thor un­known

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