South Africa’s medal haul at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games is appreciated with pride by our sports loving country. But how can we celebrate sporting success that features sportsmen’s talents and only a few sportswomen in a few sports codes?
From the 40 medals achieved at the Commonwealth Games, no more than ten medals were won by women. If the men in sport can achieve why can’t the women in sport? And where are the elite black sportswomen in Team SA? How can we surface black sportswomen medallists if the black women are few and mostly not there?
Countries like Kenya, Australia, Wales, Scotland and New Zealand with smaller populations than South Africa, achieved impressive medal hauls from both genders at the Commonwealth Games, not just their men’s contingents.
Undoubtedly, SA’s athletics team achieved commendably at Commonwealth Games and, except for Sunette Viljoen’s silver medal in the javelin event, there were no there women medallists. And where are the black sportswomen in Team SA? Why are they not seen? Why haven’t they been assisted enough to develop into international representation?
We must ask these questions. We should not look at sports success with our blinkers and be content with only men’s success. Male hegemony and control of society and women is consolidated through a litany of structures and institutions, sport being one of them.
Celebrating sporting success of our non-racial, democratic South Africa is awesome. But we can’t and should not be celebrating mostly men’s success on the sports field. When women are missing from the awards podium and the athlete representation is lacks black sportswomen, we must be bold and ask why this is happening, because this imbalance is unacceptable.
Yes, some sportswomen are achieving! But if so many men are able to realise their sports talent and turn their sports prowess into world class achievements, then why are our sportswomen not being able to do the same.
There are many reasons for sportswomen achieving and not achieving. The most pivotal is that of meagre support for our sportswomen, from the grassroots foundation to elite participation in sport, particularly young women and teenage girls in sport, from the ages 15-21.
I have written much about this and said very often, that girls and women in sport in South Africa, are discriminated against and suffer because of gender inequalities in sport.
Gender playing fields in sport are not level or even. Women do not get the attention, support and funding which their gender demands and if women in sport are to develop and achieve, then the structural constraints must be unlocked and eliminated.
Why should we be satisfied if a few women win medals whilst over 80% of a team’s success has been attained by the sportsmen? We must question this, explore this gender imbalance, learn from other countries why they are developing sportswomen and why South Africa has so much men’s success in sport, yet so little with our sportswomen.
When we celebrate the sports success of South Africa’s sportspeople, we want to celebrate women and men in sport and not largely sportsmen and what they achieve. Despite their sports talent, South Africa’s sportswomen have to always compete with chains. They must struggle with part-time training programmes, whilst sportswomen in other countries participate in sport as professionals and sportsmen in their own country get all the support they require.
For how long have we been asking for professional leagues and contracts, especially in women’s football, hockey, and netball so that our sportswomen are given just as good a chance to participate and compete?
Most importantly, budgets in sport must be separate for girls and women’s development in sport, not just for development events in August women’s month but throughout the year. And women sports officials must speak out boldly and fiercely and advocate for much more support and financial funding for women in sport. Women get positions in sport but don’t do enough for their own gender.