13 May 2021 – Karabo Dhlamini is following in the footsteps of Banyana Banyana teammates like Nomvula Kgoale, Kaylin Swart, Robyn Moodaly and Jermaine Seoposenwe, to mention but a few – the player with an educated left foot is currently studying and playing football in the USA at the University of Northwest Ohio, in Lima, Ohio.

The afore-mentioned Banyana Banyana quartet has since completed their studies where they were at different institutions in the US – with Swart, Kgoale and Moodaly back home campaigning in the SAFA National Women’s League, while Seoposenwe is plying her trade in Portugal.

When not on the field of play, Dhlamini is in class studying towards a Bachelor of Business Administration degree.

“Actually, I was supposed to be at the Michigan University, but they are only starting in August so I am in Ohio for now, basically as orientation. I will be transferring to Michigan later this year. And I am studying Bachelor of Business Administration for now, but my intention is to study law – so I am talking to them (Michigan University) to see what my options are,” said Dhlamini from her base in Ohio.

Studying and playing is what she has always wanted to do.

“I love football and education is very important – and to do both things is very exciting indeed. The challenge with sport, especially women’s football, is that for we don’t know what the future holds so it is crucial that when you get an opportunity to do what I am doing you grab it with both hands. You need something to fall back on when your playing days are over or an injury ends your career prematurely,” added Dhlamini.

She has been in the USA since December and it was thanks for her U17 and U20 national team coach Simphiwe Dludlu.

“Coach Simphiwe was the driving force behind my move. She told me it was her wish to travel abroad to study and play football but it never materialised because there was no one helping her. So she made it her mission to assist any player that was keen. I was fortunate to have her on my side, so I can never thank her enough for this. She has done the “easy part” of getting me here, now I have to run the rest of race by myself by being focused and determined. These are rare opportunities and we should not waste them,” she said.

When she arrived in Ohio, she had to be in quarantine for two weeks before she could join everyone.
She landed in the middle of winter in December and was greeted by snow all over, but it has since become warm.

Her studies got off to a flyer in the first quarter.

“It is a different setup altogether, which I was not accustomed to, but I did very well in the first quarter. Studying is a lot of work, and if you add playing sport in the mix, it is not easy. But it also depends on how serious you are and where you want to be in life. You need to manage your time very well or one of them (school or sport) is going to suffer,” said Dhlamini.

Due to Covid-19 travel restrictions, she has not been home, and won’t be back in the country for a while. She spends some of her time with compatriot, former U17 national team player, Shakira O’Malley from Cape Town, who is studying at the same institution.

“The intention was to come here and study as well as play football – that is what I am doing, and that keeps me going. Yes, I do miss home but I believe the sacrifice is worth it. I will be transferring to Michigan in the next two months or so, and I have been advised not to travel home, as it will take me longer to be integrated again into the system, as I will have to undergo quarantine once more. But thanks to technology I speak to my family often and will probably see them in December,” she said.

On the sporting front, Dhlamini is excited with her performance. She has featured in the 11 of the 12 games the team has played.

“I missed the first game due to quarantine. But I am glad I am back on the field doing what I love most. I am enjoying myself and have become what one would call an ‘all rounder’ – I have been deployed in defence, in the middle, on the left side and even upfront,” chuckled Dhlamini.

She has been handed jersey number five for the season.

Dhlamini is keeping a close eye on the National League back home, where she used to run out for the defending champions, Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies.

She says she misses the action.

“In the first season of the competition, we almost cruised to the title, but this year it is proving to be very competitive as the teams have improved a lot. No team is easy to beat now because they have balanced sides – my former team Sundowns has acquired new players to keep maintain their high expectations. You have to prepare very well week in week out – the opposition is now tougher. And already there are several contenders for the title – it is not as clear cut as it was in the first season,” says Dhlamini.

“Also, some teams have sponsors or their players have individual sponsors, and this makes the league more attractive than ever. It is very exciting to see teams with players’ names on their back – that makes it look very professional.”

She adds that when the league is doing very well, this can only be good for Banyana Banyana.

“There is no doubt that a strong national league will lead to a strong Banyana Banyana. Previously, the technical team had to go around to look for players, now those players are on display every week. So good players stand a chance to be spotted – they have an equal opportunity to be selected, more so as the matches are now broadcast live.”

Dhlamini says the National League owes it all to the Sasol League.

“It is a fact that the Sasol League has played a huge role in building the players that Banyana Banyana has today. I believe if there was no Sasol League, there would be no National Team – in the same vein, the National League owes its existence to the Sasol League – which supplied all the players – and this further confirms how big and important role the Sasol League has played in women’s football,” concluded Dhlamini.

“Things have changed for the better now. Previously, you would win the Sasol League and stay in the same league – now there is a lot more to play for in that you win the League and you stand a good chance of playing in the National League. Sasol has really supported women’s football in more ways than we can think of.

Dhlamini last played for Banyana Banyana in the 2019 COSAFA Women’s Cup.