South Africa Must Prioritise Support For Working Class Sports Girls By Cheryl Roberts

4 Jun
Gezelle Magerman

Gezelle Magerman

The African Youth Games wrapped last weekend in Gaborone, Botswana where Africa’s girls and boys displayed their sports talent, competed with youthful tenacity to claim sought after medal positions and make their respective countries proud.

South Africa unleashed a youth team which got the medals for the country to claim top the status and ranking of Africa’s no.1 youth sports team. This top position in Africa is expected of South African sport, given its plentiful resources and abundant sports funding, particularly for elite professional men’s sport.

Whilst Africa’s young sports stars give our continent much to cheer about and hopefully, a future of international champions we can be proud of, it’s the talent of African gold medallists and South African sports girls like Kaylynn Kloppers, 16 and Gazelle Magerman, 17 together with many other talented sports girls, which makes me ask: ‘What future do SA’s sports girls have of displaying their sports potential on the world’s sports stages’.

Both Kloppers and Magerman are not only raw, natural sports talent; they are exceptional participants in their sports. At the African Youth Games, they won gold medals in their highly competitive events. Participating in weightlifting, Kloppers won 3 gold medals and Magerman won the girls 400m hurdles race. These sports girls exploded onto the gold medal podium, out of the uneven starting blocks of their disadvantaged and deprived families, forcing their talent to be recognized, after participating in sport at grassroots and community level.

Similar to the lives of many working class girls in sport, Kloppers and Magerman are from struggling, disadvantaged families and communities, where survival is tough and sport a privilege, yet definitely a positive way out of adverse family and community life. Kloppers comes from working class area, Eerste River, a northern residential area in Cape Town. Magerman is from Darling, a town outside Cape Town.

Over the 20 years of our proud non-racial, democratic country, together with our sporting achievements we also lament South African sport’s litany of lost, forgotten and discarded sports talent, especially of black and working class youth in sport. Admittedly, opportunities have been and are created, albeit not enough of them and much more must be done.

But sadly, and most times this happens because of neglect and deprivation of assistance and funding from a well-resourced sports paradigm, South Africa’s talented youth are not coming through the sports system as their performances and achievements indicate.

What will become of these two precocious talents, and all struggling sports girl talent, in a few years time? Will they be given the support to develop to sport’s elite level and compete internationally as seniors? Will their talent be recognised and supported by corporates so they are able to compete as professional women athletes?

South Africa is overflowing with sports talent in working class communities and schools, where youngsters show natural talent at school sports and junior events.

With opportunities being created in the non-racial, democratic South Africa, many girls, unlike millions before them, have participated in sport over the past 20 years. However most of these girls have been lost in the system and have disappeared from sport. The teenage and early adult years are crucial in the life of sports girls. It’s during the 15-21 years of age, that talented girls participating in competitive sport disappear from competitive sport.

Look at the lives of Kaylynn Kloppers and Gazelle Magerman. Kloppers lives with her grandmother, a pensioner who is her adopted guardian and Magerman was given an opportunity to attend the well resourced La Rochelle girls school in Paarl, where she’s  Magerman on a full scholarship where, fees are paid and sports training is taken care of. Kloppers trains in a home garage in her Eerste River community because there is no equipped weightlifting gym provided.

Before a working class girl starts to achieve in sport, before they get the prized gold medals at international junior events, it’s a struggle to get them to participate in training programmes and competitions. Adversity and scenarios of battling against the odds within the family is common.

What happens is that the girl will participate in sport and her talent will be recognized by a teacher or a community coach who will try to assist and encourage them in sport. Ask any community coach what a battle it is to help disadvantaged youngsters. You must ensure they are eating well, attending and performing at school, friends are in good standing and have tracksuits and training shoes and transport fare to come to training.

When school is done, the girl is challenged ‘not to be idle doing nothing’, and is pressurised to get into something, like either tertiary studies or a job. The parent, most times single or grand parent, needs the girl to bring in an income to the family home. Pressure mounts on the sports girl. How does she compete in sport when she doesn’t know how she is going to look after herself?

There’s the example of Janice Josephs, a working class, world class athlete in the sprints and long jump who reached the finals of a world championship long jump event. Then there’s rural-area raised Babalwa Ndleleni who medalled at a Commonwealth weightlifting event. It’s been a constant struggle for both women athletes to compete as professional athletes with no income guaranteed and not much support to sustain them. When the load becomes too much to bear, the athlete has to give up sport to earn some money to survive.

The facts exist. There’s no disputing South Africa’s black, working class, rural sports girls and sportswomen struggle to participate in sport and are forced to achieve against the odds whilst the middle class, privileged sportswomen have it a little easier. For how much longer are we going to allow our sports girl’s talent to be deprived and discarded because they have become liabilities as struggling entities?

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