Is South Africa Closing in on the Gender Gap in Sports?
Women have traditionally been underrepresented in all sports in South Africa, despite being such as sports-mad country. At professional levels in sports such as cricket, rugby and football, there are still no domestic leagues for women to speak of. [The SA Football Association – SAFA – launched a National Women’s League in August 2019 which disappointed from the start and didn’t even have a commercial sponsor].
Take a look at countries such as Australia and England, in comparison, where professional leagues have been set up in all three sports. India has also set up a Women’s Cricket League. New Zealand is making plans to pay its men’s and women’s sevens teams the same salary.
Out of 30 athletes receiving support from the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee, only nine are women. Out of the 20 coaches who work with these Olympic athletes, only three are women.
Sadly, South Africa lags behind other countries when it comes to equal representation in sports. This is despite the many different declarations that have been signed in the past in an attempt to improve the situation. In fact, South Africa was one of the first countries to adopt the Brighton Declaration on Women and Sport two decades ago.
But in recent years, a lot of effort has been made to at least try and close part of the yawning gap between men and women’s sport in South Africa and women’s sport in South Africa compared to the rest of the world. Are we starting to see some type of movement in the right direction?
One of the biggest challenges facing sportswomen in South African is the huge pay gap that exists between male and female professional athletes.
Take, as an example, players in the Banyana Banyana football squad, who earn paltry salaries for representing South Africa. Last year they earned R4,000 for a draw and R5,700 for a win in a competitive match, compared to R60,000 and R30,000 respectively won by their male counterparts playing for Bafana Bafana.
Another way of looking at things is this: One Springbok team member earns more than the entire women’s sevens squad – combined.
Some of the Laws and Organizations Promoting Equality in SA Sport
National Sport and Recreation Amendment Act – Requires federations to make provision for women and the disabled to participate at top level sport.
Transformation Charter for South Africa Sport – Pinpoints women of South Africa as a marginalized group and calls for greater access and opportunity in local and international sports.
South African White Paper on Sport and Recreation – The government placed special emphasis on the inclusion of women in sport.
Operation Excellence – Developed by SASCO (The South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee), the organization which oversees high performance sport in South Africa, this unique program provides financial support to those who show particular promise as medal winners at international competition level. Several women who went on to win Olympic medals for South Africa, including Caster Semenya (athletics) and Sunette Viljoen (javelin) received assistance from the program.
Girls Only Project – The only organization in South Africa dedicated to researching women in sport issues, Girls Only believes that there is a need to create a more equal sporting landscape for women in the country and across Africa. The project’s ambassadors are elite athletes who share their journey and continue to inspire millions of young girls. The captain of the Proteas Netball Squad, Bongiwe Msomi is an ambassador for the project.
Female South African Teams and Athletes Making us Proud
Despite the disparity between male and female athletes when it comes to salaries, sponsorship and broadcast time, it is still seen as a huge privilege to play for South Africa.
Some of the most noteworthy examples of trailblazing South African sportswomen are as follows:
Banyana Banyana – South Africa’s National Women’s soccer team made history in 2018 when it qualified for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup for the first time.
Portia Modise – Retired from Banyana Banyana and holds the record for the most goals scored for the team in its history. Portia was chosen as one of 13 FIFA ambassadors in the 2019 Women’s World Cup. She has fought long and hard for equal compensation for women in sports.
Desiree Ellis – Founding member and coach of the South African women’s national football team, Ellis was nominated CAF Women’s National Team Coach of the Year in 2018. She proudly led the SA Women’s National Team to qualification for the World Cup.
Janine van Wyk – Captain of Banyana Banyana, van Wyke has been called to play for team over 170 times in her role as defender. She is the most capped player in South Africa’s history (both genders). The 33 year old van Wyk was recently signed on to play for the Scottish Women’s Football Club, Glasgow City ahead of the 2020/2021 campaign.
Karla Pretorius – One of South Africa’s first professional netball players, Pretorius is a dominant figure in the SA netball team. She helped her team finish fourth in the Netball World Cup in Liverpool, and is recognized as one of the best players in the world.
Caster Semenya – The controversial middle-distance runner won gold in 800m championship races in multiple competitions and tournaments, including the Commonwealth Games, the Olympics and the World Champions. Caster had to undergo gender testing and at one point was withdrawn from international competition before being cleared to return. In 2019, the International Association of Athletics Federations introduced new rules which prevented women such as Caster, who suffer from a disorder of sex development, to participate in events unless they take medication to lower their testosterone levels.
Dane van Niekerk – Cricketer of the Year and SA Women’s Players’ Player of the Year, van Niekerk was the first bowler for South Africa to take 100 wickets in Women’s One Day Internationals. Earlier this year, van Niekerk was named captain of SA’s squad for the 2020 ICC Women’s T20 World Cup in Australia. She is married to her teammate, Marizanne Kapp. The two were named in SA’s 24-woman squad to begin training in Pretoria, ahead of their tour to England. Sadly, the tour, which was to have consisted of 4 WODIs and 2 WT201I’s was cancelled due to the coronavirus.
Zenay Jordaan – One of the first women to receive a professional contract from the South African Rugby Union, Jordaan has played in two Women’s Rugby World Cups and three Rugby World Cup Sevens tournaments. She is set to play at a third World Cup after SA earned its place in the 2021 tournament in New Zealand (by beating Kenya 39-0). Jordaan’s dream is to start a women’s rugby academy.
Natalie du Toit – Du Toit won two gold medals for South Africa at the 2004 Paralympic Games, as well as the Commonwealth Games. She was awarded the Laureus World Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability in 2010.
Gerda Steyn – The marathon and ultramarathon athlete became the first woman to finish the Comrades Marathon in under six hours. She won the 2019 up Comrades and in the same year won the 2019 Two Oceans Marathon.
A Slow Change
Just like around the rest of the world, the focus on sport in South Africa has traditionally been on men. However, we are slowly seeing a change in sports such as netball, football and cricket.
It is the responsibility of all South Africans to fight for women’s sport, starting with the Department of Sport, to ensure that more people are aware of girls’ and women’s sport opportunities.
The media should give women’s sport more coverage, and corporations should step in to give more financial support.
Corporate South Africa is starting to respond to the achievements of women athletes. Take Telkom’s promise to pay each member of the SA national netball league an unheard of sum of R1 million should the Proteas win their first-ever world championship.
Another sponsor, Spar, has always been a big supporter of netball. It stood by the national team, even when it slipped to sixth place and cheered when it climbed back to being one of the top four teams in the world.
Stakeholders need to invest a lot more in local sports if our best athletes are to compete successfully against the best in the world.
Participation in sports for South African girls is essential for the long term success of these young women and for the country as a whole.
Equal representation of female athletes can positively influence young girls’ desire to compete in sports and become empowered by discipline, dedication and teamwork.
It’s our belief that men and women should be paid equally when representing their countries. They should be given equal opportunities, and that starts with better exposure in the media, better sponsorship deals and the establishment of high –profile professional women’s leagues.
We are still far from an ideal scenario, but we are seeing some progress made in the right direction.