Orlando Pirates among three SA teams scrambling to secure women’s squad, or face Caf exclusion
South Africa’s representatives in the Confederation of African Football competitions for next season have a couple of days to meet the mandate of having a women’s team in order to be eligible for participation in continental soccer.
Orlando Pirates, Supersport United and Sekhukune United could be ejected from Confederation of African Football (Caf) competitions next season if they fail to meet a 30 June deadline to field a women’s team.
As part of their revised licensing regulations for the 2023/2024 season — the Caf mandated that all teams wishing to participate in their respective inter-club continental competitions must have a women’s team. Or at least be affiliated with one in a mutually beneficial relationship.
Though the mandate was initially brought to light about two years ago, it was formally approved as a requisite in 2022.
Under the guidelines, Caf is adamant that no team which does have a women’s side, or is at least affiliated with a women’s club in their country, will be allowed to participate in the Caf Champions League or Caf Confederation Cup. The deadline for this is 30 June.
This has seen affected clubs around the continent scrambling to meet the deadline. This includes teams from countries such as Ghana and Nigeria.
In South Africa, from the four clubs that have qualified to represent the country in continental club competition next season, only 2016 African champions Mamelodi Sundowns meet the requirement. They have had a women’s team for over a decade now.
On the other hand, Orlando Pirates (who are set to play in the Champions League), as well as Confederation Cup-bound SuperSport United and Sekhukhune United are in a race against time as they negotiate with various local women’s teams in order to meet the criteria before time runs out.
‘Should be ready’
Why they waited this long to act is unclear. They might have assumed it was the usual lip service pattern from soccer’s suits. However, Caf seems adamant to follow through with its threat to block participation for non-compliant clubs.
With the women’s local season fully underway, the affected SA sides are unlikely to be in a position to buy a club outright.
Nevertheless, there is a loophole in that Article 27 of the new regulations states that teams sans their own women’s team can “enter into a written agreement with another entity” that operates a women’s first team. They would then have to invest in that team in one way or another.
“They know, because this was communicated two years ago. Now they should be ready,” South African Football Association vice president Linda Zwane said of the matter at a recent press briefing relating to South Africa’s ambitions to host the 2027 Fifa Women’s World Cup.
“Whether they are ready or not [I’m not sure]. What matters is that by the time the season starts, they should have complied with the directives. What we have heard is that there are serious negotiations. Some are saying they have concluded. Others are saying they are still negotiating,” Zwane continued.
“At this moment, it would be very difficult to speculate what is going to happen if they don’t comply. But at least no one will say it was through short notice.”
As it stands, only three DStv Premiership teams in Sundowns, Royal AM and TS Galaxy have a women’s team outright under their roster. Caf’s insistence on their mandate being enforced will likely see more clubs incorporate a women’s wing in seasons to come, especially if they possess continental soccer ambitions.
This is all part of the motherbody of African soccer’s aim to grow the women’s game on the continent. They took a massive stride towards this with the launch of the Women’s Champions League in 2021, which was won by Sundowns.
With this mandate, it is hoped that Africa can at least keep up with other continents in terms of competitiveness. For that to be possible at international level, there must be a healthy ecosystem at club level.
“Having strong women’s football clubs is a guarantee of quality in the future. We owe it to ourselves to build a structure that respects standards and Caf is happy to support women’s clubs in order to improve professionalism,” Caf vice president Kanizat Ibrahim has said in the past. DM