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FOOTBALL

Time is now for SA women’s soccer – league should be professional, with proper financial backing and pay for players

Time is now for SA women’s soccer – league should be professional, with proper financial backing and pay for players
South Africa players celebrate victory during the 2022 Women's Africa Cup of Nations Semi Final game between Zambia and South Africa at Mohammed V Complex in Casablanca, Morocco on 18 July 2022 ©Weam Mostafa/BackpagePix

There is hope that Banyana’s recent continental win will propel the status of women’s football in South Africa to greater heights and see aspiring female footballers not discouraged by the prevailing circumstances, where the sport is still largely amateur.

It’s been more than a month since South Africa’s senior women’s soccer side clinched a historic and maiden Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (Wafcon) in Morocco.

The impact and influence of that success has the potential to make a timeless contribution. With their victory, Banyana Banyana joined record Wafcon winners Nigeria, plus two-time champions Equatorial Guinea, on the winners’ roll of honour.

The victory has also boosted the 23-member squad significantly in terms of their individual finances, with a windfall of almost R30-million for them to share.

The funds came from the government, as well as the tournament prize money, plus a special injection from the team’s long-time sponsor, Sasol. Some provincial governments have also rewarded Banyana players who are natives of the respective provinces.

“When I got involved with the team, it was always to win that [Wafcon gold] medal. It was always to do well. The money is an incentive after. They never knew that this [financial reward] would happen. Performance brings incentives like this. Which will change not just their [the player’s] lives, but the lives of those around them as well,” reflected Banyana’s current coach and former captain Desiree Ellis.

A case in point is Banyana and Mamelodi Sundowns goalkeeper Andile Dlamini, who is planning to build her mother a house with the help of her recent earnings.

The financial contrast between the players in the national team and club players in SA’s top-flight women’s league (the Hollywoodbets Super League) is still stark.  

But now there is hope that Banyana’s continental win will propel the status of women’s football in South Africa to greater heights and see aspiring female footballers not discouraged by the prevailing circumstances, where the sport is still largely amateur.

Banyana’s victory must be used to sow the seeds of a professional women’s football league in SA, said Thembi Kgatlana, one of the most influential voices in the national setup. She recently left Atletico Madrid in Spain for Racing Louisville in the US.

“We have to set up structures that are going to make sure women footballers have money from different levels. So that when we get to the top and play for the national teams, we don’t look like we are reckless with the money that we have.

“A lot of us [in the national team] appreciate the position that we’re in financially. Because we know how much it means to us. We know how much it’s going to change the lives of the players in the national team.”


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When she signed her first professional contract for American side Houston Dash in 2018, the former University of the Western Cape striker had to halt her studies, citing the demands of playing club football, as well as the rigorous national camps.

Of course, she did so knowing that the financial incentive from playing club football internationally would sustain her. For her South African-based peers, no matter how much they may love the game, the options they have are limited.

“The issue of money is not just at national teams. It has to start somewhere. The girls playing in the Hollywoodbets Super League – how many of them have contracts? You have to have a contract in order to be paid,” said Kgatlana.  

“A lot of these girls are discouraged. They have to choose between going to school and work, or playing football.”

She said, if proper structures were in place, someone like Banyana’s youngest member when they won Wafcon – Nthabiseng Majiya of Richmond Ladies in the Northern Cape – would be more financially aware.

This as opposed to her present reality, where she has moved from playing football merely because she is passionate about it to having football being as financially rewarding as it has been since she helped Banyana to the continental title.

“We also have an 18-year-old. How are we helping her to understand the position she’s now in financially? But if she’d started making money at 15 years of age like some of the girls that play at Atletico Madrid, she would be in a better position to understand what it means for her to have such incentive,” Kgatlana said.

There were ongoing talks to ensure that the domestic Hollywoodbets Super League graduated from a semi-professional to a fully fledged football league akin to the men’s Premier Soccer League (PSL), said South African Football Association president Danny Jordaan.

“On the women’s side, all of the sponsorship [funds] combined are less than any of the competitions in the PSL… So, when are we going to have a fully professional league? When all of us come together, stop pointing fingers and be allies in addressing this issue.”

Two severe beatings at the hands of South American champions Brazil have laid bare the amount of work required to ensure Banyana Banyana will be competitive at next year’s Fifa Women’s World Cup, and beyond.

The sooner a fully professional and well-resourced league can be established, the better South Africa’s chances of narrowing the gap between themselves and global juggernauts such as Brazil and some European powerhouses, as well as producing more players that can occupy the best-run leagues in the world. DM

 

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.

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