11 August 2017 – With August being Women’s month and recent celebrations taking place in honour of the amazing women of our beautiful nation, the South African Football Association (SAFA) would like to take this opportunity to highlight the important role of Women’s football, not just locally but globally.

For far too long has sport been dominated by the male species, particularly in team sporting codes. Female athletes had to be content with showing off their skills in individual events such as swimming and athletics. Football was one particular game that was for a very long time viewed or at least ‘perceived’ to be only for men and the thought of women playing this physical, contact sport was almost unthinkable.

Hearsay has it that the first known documentation of Women’s Association Football occurred as far back as the 12th century in which French females played the sport as part of folk games.

Fast-forward a few good centuries and Women’s Association Football is now officially the most popular and prominent team sport played by women around the globe.

However, it wasn’t achieved without any struggles. Its first golden period occurred in the early 1920’s in the United Kingdom but the sport was then banned by the Football Association on the grounds that it was ’distasteful’. This ban was in effect until 1971.

During that decade, Italy became the first country to turn the ladies game professional while in 1985, the United States (arguably the best Women’s team of all time) formed their national team and in 1989 Japan started the first semi-professional league (the L League), which still exists today.

Current times has seen the Women’s game grow exponentially, not just in popularity but in participation, world events, world leagues, financially and so much more.

The FIFA Women’s World Cup has grown in stature ever since the inaugural event in 1991 and now enjoys all the commercial benefits, sponsorships and prestige as any other huge sporting event. The Women’s football competition at each Summer Olympic Games are just as big and sees hundreds of women striving to achieve a life-long dream of attaining that gold medal.

One of the most positive aspects of Women’s football is the financial impact that it has had on the game, its teams, players, coaches, administrators and more. Sponsors play a huge part her with Nike being the biggest commercial sponsor of Women’s football and has been involved in the game since the 1990s. Such sponsors realize that their brand can only benefit from promoting diversity, gender equality and inclusivity.

The Women’s game opens up the sport to new markets that Men’s football could never even begin to dream of. We have seen the likes of Avon partner with Liverpool Ladies and Disney get into partnership with the English Women’s national team. Such giant brands see women in a different light as compared to the male species and yearn to partner with anything female-related in order to promote certain key values. This all leads to a ‘low-risk, high-reward’ investment, which is not always the case with the Men’s game.

With the game going professional, it has allowed women of modern society to take control of both their professional and private lives. It is indeed the 21st century and more and more women have become career-orientated while also trying to take care of their families.

Football offers such females an alternative career path as compared with the traditional corporate world, not just as players but coaches and match officials, as well as in the administration side of things. Not only does football offer far bigger salaries and opportunities for income (individual sponsorships included) but also fame and a chance to represent your cities and countries. Many women find such aspects very attractive and see it as a great, positive challenge.

Women’s football is extremely important for the world game, particularly for its growth and future sustainability. No longer can the world live with only the men’s equivalent and a world without Women’s football is simply unthinkable. It promotes personal development and the game in general will benefit from having females on footballing governing bodies and boards. Don’t be too surprized by the appointment of a female as FIFA president one day soon.

If one tried to make a case as to why the female game is indeed even better, the following aspects should be considered as rather strong arguments: less play-acting, the money is less obscene and ticket prices are actually cheaper.

The Women’s game in South Africa has blossomed rather nicely and seen many a female make a success of this chosen career path and step out of poverty and harsh living conditions. The Girls U17, Women’s U20 and Banyana Banyana have performed beyond expectation, qualified for World Cups and been really successful while making the nation extremely proud. The success of Noko Matlou is just one example of individual success.

Football is an extremely powerful metaphor for what a woman can achieve. It proves that a lady can do anything that a male can and simply offers a new, viable niche market for football. One of the key development principles laid out by FIFA, states that: “Football is a powerful means of enabling women to fulfil their potential both in sport and in society. No woman should be subject to discrimination, abuse or disadvantage because of her gender. Football will be a leader in carrying this message to the world”. SAFA agrees! The sooner we all embrace and encourage this, the better.

By Dirshan Gobind