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SOCCER

Excitement builds as Safa National Women’s League edges closer to kick-off

Excitement builds as Safa National Women’s League edges closer to kick-off
JVW celebrates winning the championship during the 2019 Sasol League National Championships, day five on 8 December 2019 at Tsakane Stadium. (Photo: Sydney Mahlangu/ BackpagePix)

Footballers who are part of the country’s first-ever national women’s football league are gearing up for a return to competition, after eight months of inaction.

It took a few false starts over the years, but in August 2019 the South African Football Association (Safa) finally launched the much-anticipated Safa National Women’s League (SNWL). It was a fair start to a new project, with some decent takeaways, as well as some mishaps.

Taking stock

Some of the issues encountered were administrative, including one where a game between First Touch Academy and University of Johannesburg commenced 90 minutes late due to the fact no referees were available on time.  

Considering that the competition is still out to attract sponsors, it was not a good reflection on its credibility or Safa.

“In any initial project, there are what you call teething problems. Yes, there were some issues here and there. But not anything to shout about; it’s expected in any introductory sport,” Safa Head of Communications Dominic Chimhavi told Daily Maverick.

“If you look at the shortcomings compared to the success stories, the shortcomings are just here and there… But we’ll smooth them as time goes on.”

Of course, one of the biggest positives from the campaign was having some of the games being broadcast live through the public broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC). It was a step in the right direction to attracting and negotiating with potential sponsors as the league grows.

“Going into the second season, one of the issues we have to look at is budgetary issues. Corporate is still hesitant in pouring money into the women’s game. Yet, if you want to push your product, the best way is through women’s sport. It’s fast growing globally and in South Africa,” Chimhavi said.

Looking forward

The league was suspended when the country went into lockdown at the behest of South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa in March 2020.

As Covid-19 was unrelenting, Safa’s national executive committee took the decision to declare the 2019/2020 season, with runaway championship leaders Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies handed the title. That was in June 2020, eight months ago.

Following that lengthy break, Safa has since given amateur football the green light to return to training at the beginning of this month. Teams are gearing up for the league action, which has been touted to kick-off in March, or April at the latest.

One of those teams is the newly promoted JVW, owned by Banyana Banyana skipper Janine van Wyk. The Bedfordview-based side were promoted from the Sasol League in December 2019, alongside Maindies, whom they beat in the national playoffs of that competition.

Since then, they have not played any competitive football.

“We played that national championship match in the second week in December 2019. So, from then until now that we’ve started training again, we haven’t played football. We haven’t had that competition,” JVW head coach Ciara Picco told Daily Maverick.

“Now that the girls have a sniff of that competition, it’s just awakened a beast in them. They are so ready for this challenge…”

Picco also spoke about some of the initial challenges they had to navigate once the green light to resume training was given. With some of the players balancing playing football with earning a living through day jobs, there were concerns about Covid-19 finding its way into the team camp.

“Not that we’re a large group, but there’s always that consideration that we don’t live in each other’s pockets. We can’t afford to necessarily have testing, to have great things like bio-bubbles. There are those considerations as well at the back of some players’ minds,” Picco shared with Daily Maverick.

“Those were the teething problems in the first couple of weeks, getting into training. Once everyone got into training and saw the protocols that the club had put into place for Covid-19 monitoring, it gave the players a bit of peace of mind,” the coach added.

As for what they hope to achieve this season, Picco said they just want to be competitive, no matter which team they are playing against; they just want to make a good account of themselves. Once they have navigated this season, they will look to set more concrete targets.

Meanwhile, Dineo Moholoholo, Bloemfontein Celtic Ladies’ talismanic midfielder said she and her teammates are looking forward to the new season as well.

“We are happy to be back in training. It’s been months just sitting and doing nothing. We’ve struggled a bit to regain our fitness, but after a while of training it’s now much better. We are happy,” Moholoholo told Daily Maverick.  

Celtic finished third in the previous campaign, a whopping 20 points behind Sundowns.

“We will really push this season. I can promise you, it’s either we will finish in position two or one, that I can tell you,” Moholoholo said. 

Those with a vested interest will hope that this will be another season that will see women’s football continue its steady growth, in all facets possible. DM 

 

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