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Pay our female footballers properly: New Safa women’s boss has big ideas

Pay our female footballers properly: New Safa women’s boss has big ideas
Safa's newly appointed head of women's football, Romaney Pinnock, has hit the ground running since ascending to the role in July 2023. (Photo: Teri Robberts)

Romaney Pinnock, the new head of women’s football in South Africa, reveals her vision for the game – and she has plenty of forward-looking goals.

Romaney Pinnock wears many hats: soccer club owner, management consultancy veteran and, most recently, head of women’s football in the South African Football Association (Safa).

Pinnock was appointed to the newly created role after impressing during the national soccer association’s rigorous interview process.

With the ongoing Fifa Women’s World Cup and Banyana Banyana’s participation in it, as well as Safa’s ambitions to bring the next women’s World Cup to this country in four years’ time, Pinnock has hit the ground ­running.

The 39-year-old says ascending to a level where she can influence the direction of women’s soccer in South Africa has been a dream for some time.

Living the dream

Veteran coach and administrator Fran Hilton-Smith left her role as the association’s technical director of women’s football five years ago. Since then, there hasn’t been a similar position within Safa. Until now.

“I’ve had this football life [for some time]. But my real life has always been management consulting. I’ve worked in the education sector, government – those sorts of things. This job is the marrying of the two. Finally, I can do football as a job as well,” Pinnock told Daily Maverick.

The administrator – one of three female directors at Cape Town club Badgers Football Academy – said that, after forming the team as a social club in 2017, she was quickly confronted with the issues that plague women’s soccer.

As a natural leader, she hoped she could effect change, including becoming a role player at national level.  

“I definitely dreamt of it. As soon as I started seeing how the ecosystem was letting down so many girls and women, I verbalised it,” Pinnock said as she prepared to fly Down Under, where Banyana are aiming to add another page to the story of their recent success and growth.

“I said I want to be the head of women’s football – even though there wasn’t a head of women’s football,” she explained.

“Fran was sort of a technical head. She came up a very different route to me. But the idea of having a strategic head who gets down into the administration and operations didn’t exist.”

The Badgers are named after the ferocious honey badger. In an ecosystem of lions, cheetahs and hyenas, many aspiring and current women soccer players have to adopt the attitude of the badger.

Road to professionalism

After being formally recognised by their local football association in 2022, the Badgers joined South Africa’s second-tier women’s league, the Sasol League, this year. The Hollywoodbets Super League is the top tier.

Though the Sasol League is semi-professional and the Hollywoodbets Super League is professional, the reality is that there’s no money. Many players have to juggle full-time jobs and playing soccer. Others are unemployed.

Playing doesn’t pay much. Passion and a love of the social aspect drives them more than the pay cheque.

With her team completing their first season in the second tier this year, Pinnock says she was able to see firsthand some of the issues holding back women’s soccer in the country.

“I’ve learnt a huge amount of what is not working administratively, referee-wise, venue-wise. I look at everything and think, ‘We can be doing better’. And this is not a difficult task. The Hollywoodbets Super League struggles with the same issues. And obviously everyone’s struggling with financial issues,” Pinnock said.

Since being appointed, Pinnock has been taking stock of all that needs to be done. What’s working? What’s not? Where can there be improvement from the role ­players in the ecosystem?

“I have arrived at a draft strategy. Various departments have already put together a draft of the work areas in which they want to create priorities for women’s football. I’ve put lots of ink into it and I’m now streamlining what I feel we should prioritise, and how we time it,” she said.

“How do we look at a one-year, two-year, five-year, 10-year story and position where all these activities and programmes should take place for the best overall result? So, a lot of my initial work will be around strategy design and creating the timeline of how we implement the strategy,” she said.

Pulling in the same direction

At the forefront of these strategies is professionalising the women’s game in South Africa.

When women footballers are able to invest the bulk of their energy and time into improving skill there will be a far-reaching ripple effect on the quality of soccer players the country produces, from the grassroots level up to the senior national team.

This requires a lot of pulling in the same direction, whether it be from corporates, wealthy individuals or ordinary South Africans spending a day of their weekend watching a Super League match. Everyone needs to play their part.

“A big thing for me is analytics. How do we objectively look at the players who are playing in our leagues and make sure we are doing the best for them, that they’re having the best outcome at a technical level and that other clubs around the world can see what kind of level of footballers we’re creating with actual, true analytics and not subjectively?” she asked.

That is the short-term goal from Safa’s head of women’s football.

But what does she envisage for women’s soccer for the long term?

“It should be absolutely normal for a young girl to say, ‘I want to play football’ and know that there is a club on her doorstep where she can do it – to know that, if she is really good at it, there is a pathway she can move along towards representing her country,” she said.

When such a time will arrive is unclear, especially considering that even in the men’s game there is a deficit in resources and exposure. And this is particularly true for people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

But with Pinnock living proof that dreams can become a reality, perhaps her vision for women and girls will soon become a reality. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • bigbad jon says:

    No need for 1-, 2-, 5- and 10 year plans. Teach the basics well, get the girls to play exciting football and the crowds will come. Then the sponsors will come, then the financial woes will end. Don’t get the state involved, because then the motivation disappears and they become lazy players on the dole, all rights and no action..

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