Banyana Banyana’s clash with the South African Football Association (Safa) deserves more attention and closer inspection than it is getting.
I am far from being a soccer fan, but the principle at the centre of the row has piqued my interest. The furore came to a head when Banyana Banyana refused to play Botswana, saying pitch conditions were not fit for an international fixture, and wanting a stronger team to play against (Botswana are ranked 150th in the world and Banyana 48th) in preparation for the World Cup. But more to the point, it was also about a dispute over remuneration.
Women participating in sports, especially predominantly male sports, has always been a political minefield, with equal and fair remuneration at the centre, whether it be sponsorships or fee structures. Venus Williams fiercely fought this fight and made history when Wimbledon finally agreed to award men and women equal prize money. Williams described the watershed moment as “still the best moment of my career”.
Sadly, this has not carried through to other tennis tournaments or the larger sporting arena. In fact, in 2022, this issue of equal remuneration came up after coach Desiree Ellis led Banyana Banyana to victory in the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations.
Safa wanted to pay them R120,000 less in bonuses than the men’s national team, who only got to the quarterfinals of the Africa Cup of Nations in 2019.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Banyana Banyana victory – a test of South Africa’s gender parity
The incident prompted a statement from the spokesperson for the Commission for Gender Equality, Javu Baloyi, who said this was a “slap in the face” and that “it is not in the spirit of gender equality and parity… We call on the Safa leadership and the [Department of Sport, Arts and Culture] to look at this issue as a matter of urgency. We cannot have Safa delegates getting excited when… Banyana Banyana win but the remuneration is not the same as the men’s senior team.”
Although the women’s national team now earns the same amount as the men’s team, the issue of incentives and bonuses remains contentious. In a BusinessLIVE interview, Safa chairperson Danny Jordaan said: “My experience is that these carrots don’t give you better performances, but it is the commitment, the will to win and the determination to fight [that do]. Carrots come later.”
To me this indicates an unwillingness to consider what is quite common in sports. Why now speak of the effectiveness of “dangling carrots” when this has been standard practice?
This may appear to be just a squabble about money, but it is really about standing up for what you believe in and asserting your worth to the country, continent and world. Women have for so long been taught to accept less than is due to them. Banyana Banyana have earned the right to demand better for themselves. DM
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.