Amidst the euphoria of South Africa’s sportsmen’s triumphs in football, cricket and at the world athletics championship in Beijing, it’s easy to forget to allow the ‘women’s question; to go unnoticed or to slip under the radar or to ask ‘where are the women athletes and coaches, especially the black women.’
South Africa’s athletics team at the global event is a representation of both genders of all colours of athletes. The white women athletes have competed admirably with 400m hurdler Wenda Nel being a finalist and sprinters Carina Horn and Justine Palframan reaching the semifinals with world class javelin thrower Sunette Viljoen expected to perform well in the final.
It was about 6 years ago at the same championship that the prodigious talent that is Caster Semenya arrived on the international stage and claimed the 800m gold medal.
Today, with expectation yet again centered on Semenya, this wasn’t to be. Caster Semenya crashed out of the championship with a dismal placing in the semifinals. Six years after a black woman’s world title, there should have been many more young black women representing themselves and country. Sadly, this hasn’t happened.
Why the reliance on one black woman athletes? Where are the black women athletes?
Yes, there are black women athletes in Team SA, including the 18 year old triple jump sensation, Zinzi Chabanga who has obviously been sent to the world event to gain experience for the future. But these black women athletes are just a few. Black women do participate in athletics from grassroots to national level; in most events, and not only road running.
Some world class black women athletes have existed in South Africa, amongst them Commonwealth Games sprint medallist, Geraldine Pillay and world class long jumper, Janine Josephs. Before that there was emerging sprinter, Dikeledi Morapane.
Then cam along the ferocious talent Caster Semenya which demonstrated that black women athletes cold achieve internationally. Why are Pillay, Morapane and Josephs, now that they have retired, not given pivotal positions of coaching and nurturing SA’s emerging sports girl talent.
It is significant that world 400m champion, Wade van Niekerk is coached by a woman coach, Anna Botha, albeit an ageing but very successful woman coach. There are hardly any black women coaches at the elite level of several sports.
You can check with Athletics South Africa to see when and where they have appointed black women coaches at national and international levels.
It’s a litany of struggles experienced by black women athletes from the time they start participating in school athletics to international arenas. And once they retire and want to stay in the sport as coaches, they just can’t get a job or a breakthrough. Then you get the athletics unit at Tukkies which is filled with white women and men coaches, but not one black woman coach.
Highly achieving black women athletes are sorely needed in sport to be there as mentors, to inspire and motivate girls and young black women; so black sports girls can know that black women before them have performed and achieved internationally.
There are many white women coaches in netball, athletics, tennis, swimming, but black women are hardly visible. It’s the same with officialdom. When positions for election exist and travelling positions arrive, it’s mostly the men (of all colours) who get these positions.
Women have to struggle to get noticed and when they do its a few women here and there. In women’s football, some positions have been opened for women coaches but only if you’re an experienced foreigner and not Black African woman. Where are the Black African women coaches in Banyana, Basetsane and SA age group girls football teams? It’s only recently that, because of criticism and pressure, are SAFA officials selecting black African woman football coaches.
Take a look at South Africa’s 2015 All Africa Games team and you will see women athletes in most sports but very few women coaches. A sport such as table tennis has an all women’s teams yet can’t produce a women’s coach. Fencing and badminton have mixed teams but only men officials.
South Africa’s netball team has never had a black woman head coach of the national teams. Its always white women or foreign coaches and the black women are always assistants and development coaches.
Whilst we support and applaud the international successes of SA’s sportsmen, we also further entrench gender inequalities and women’s struggle in sport by keeping quiet and ignoring the imbalances. How you can you support sport and ignore women in sport?