22 October 2017 – The South African Women’s national football team (Banyana Banyana) take on Burkina Faso today in what can only be described as a tough and challenging friendly. Such has been the success of this team however that the majority of fans will expect them to do the business.
The team have, in essence, performed consistently better than their male counterparts over a period of time, warranting a look into just what makes Women’s football tick and why it is so important to local development. At the end of the day it’s not only the senior team that have done well but the Women’s U20 (Basetsana) and Girls U17 (Bantwana) as well. How has the Women’ game evolved, succeeded and gone from strength to strength in such a relatively short space of time? Also, how important are these teams to the overall health of South African football and to the female players themselves?
The senior team’s first ever international fixture took place against Swaziland on the 30th of May 1993, in which we won 14-0 for our biggest ever win to date. This was the beginning of a fantastic journey which seeped into all age groups and all levels with the sport eventually becoming professional.
The year 2012 was a landmark year for the senior team as they qualified for the Olympic Games for the first time ever. This was followed up by the exact same result four years later in 2016, showing an upward curve of consistency. Both junior teams have also succeeded beyond expectation having qualified for World Cups and done the nation proud. Added to the above-mentioned successes are the amazing performances at CAF Women’s Championships over the years, with the team always reaching the latter stages and gaining four runners-up medals over a two decade period.
These great success stories ultimately prove the great strides that have been made and the work put in by the South African Football Association (SAFA). Such notable achievements and efforts are vitally important to the general ethos of SA football and indeed the country as a whole and should not be underestimated.
Firstly, the obvious benefit or important factor is financial. Not only does SA football benefit as an entity in terms of marquee sponsorships and funding but so too do individual players, who are now able to earn salaries from playing the game professionally. Star players are also now able to take advantage of endorsements which normally equate to hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Rands (previously only enjoyed by male counterparts).
Secondly, the beautiful game offers an alternative career path for local females compared to traditional ‘jobs’ such as domestic work for example. Women are now empowered and through SAFA’s various programs and systems, given opportunities to choose football as their path of choice. This extends beyond merely playing the game and can result in careers such as refereeing and football administration, among others. One great example that springs to mind in terms of career opportunities is Banyana captain Janine van Wyk’s recent six month sojourn to America in which she strutted her stuff for the Houston Dash. Talk about international exposure!
Another important aspect is the fact that football now offers vital socio-economic relief and a way out of poverty and harsh conditions. The opportunities, star status and potential earnings can catapult a player into an overnight success story and in turn, motivate and inspire others in her community to follow suit and aim at becoming celebrities too. Many of these players also give back to their communities in a big way, thus affecting all in a very positive manner.
Other important reasons why Women’s football is so vital to South Africa include prestige. We want the world to know that not only do we have outstanding, world class female players and teams but that reasons for it stem from the best grass roots systems, proper development structures, outstanding schools and the best universities that take football seriously with talented local coaches, mentors and much more. Female empowerment and gender equality in line with FIFA’s mandates, are also critical variables.
SAFA’s highly praised Sasol Women’s League provides the ultimate platform and comprises of 144 teams competing across all provinces. This allows the national team’s technical scouts to select the best players for the country’s various national teams and provides unrivalled recognition to the ever-growing spectacle of women’s football. It is simply a great medium allowing for competitive football all year round for thousands of females.
Ultimately, SAFA and its football brains have realised the importance of the Women’s game and acted accordingly. In terms of global development, the Women’s game has grown from strength to strength over the past few decades and is now recognised on a large scale. South Africa needs to be a part of this and get their slice of the pie. SAFA have seen this and taken the appropriate steps and measures to ensure that the Women’s game is growing all the time and not left behind.
By Dhirshan Gobind