Some of South Africa’s women sports teams have achieved qualification criteria for the 2016 Rio Olympics, amongst them being the national women’s football team, rugby sevens and hockey. However, together with the happiness of having attained the Olympic qualification, much sadness is prevailing because this qualification doesn’t mean the teams are going to the Rio Olympics. That’s not if SASCOC, the country’s controlling sports structure, has its way.
Football, hockey and rugby qualified through the continent’s African qualifier, which is the Olympic qualification stipulated by their international federations. SASCOC, as South Africa’s sports body overseeing elite and high performance participation in sport has the final acknowledgement about which team or athlete will represent SA and participate in the Olympics.
SASCOC is concerned about attaining medals and finalist positions and in this process they are adamant about ‘not taking passengers’ to the Olympics. So SASCOC has agreed with the national sports federations in SA that qualifying through Africa doesn’t guarantee the team or athlete final Olympic selection. This is because final Olympic participation is being based on the team or athlete having a top five world ranking.
None of SA’s women’s sports teams of women’s football, rugby or hockey are ranked in the top five in the world. Women’s hockey is ranked highest, at number 11, in the world. Women’s football and rugby is lowly ranked. SASCOC has a signed agreement with some of the sports federations, that African qualification doesn’t guarantee Olympic representation and participation.
Already, the women’s hockey team has been informed that, despite their African qualification berth, the women’s hockey team won’t be going to the Rio Olympics. Women’s football appears to be confirmed as an Olympic participant, this despite the team being lowly ranked in the world. Women’s sevens rugby is yet to be confirmed as a Rio Olympics participant.
There’s a severe injustice being done here to exclude south Africa’s women’s sports teams from participating in world sports events, just because they are not world class and not high up in the world rankings.
How do you expect or country’s sportswomen to become world class and world and Olympic champions when are unjustifiably denied full support and resources on their sports journey? How do you expect part-time sportswomen and sports teams to compete with professional and salaried elite sportswomen from around the world, when SA’s sportswomen still compete with chains?
I’m of the opinion and belief that SA’s women in sport and sportswomen must be supported at every stage of their participation in sport. They must not be excluded because some officials, most of them men, have decided they are not world class. By all means apply those selection guidelines to sportsmen and men’s sports teams, but not to sportswomen.
South Africa’s sportswomen need all the support and encouragement they can get. That’s because they deserve it! Ever since they were born, our sports girls and sportswomen have had to suffer because of colour and gender discrimination and gender inequalities, up until and even after they retire from international sport. Most times, it’s an uphill struggle, littered with adversity, our sportswomen encounter as they try to participate in sport from grassroots to international platforms. The fact that they do achieve and attain impressive results on the African continent and in global sports events, is not only commendable but highly appreciated. Each qualification and achievement of a SA sports girl and sportswomen motivates young women athletes to believe they can also achieve.
SA’s sportswomen cannot and should not be compared to men in sort and sportsmen to attain the same highly rates of world participation. That’s because the sportsmen get the financial resources while sportswomen get some handout here and there and the smallest budgets.
SA’s women’s hockey team is shattered after being told they wont be going to the Rio Olympics; this after they have sacrificed their jobs, careers and studies and paid personal costs to participate internationally. Both the women’s football and rugby sevens teams are internationally weak when compared to international rankings. Women’s hockey is the highest ranked of the three women’s teams. Both football and rugby teams are not expected to medal at the Olympic Games and should struggle to go beyond the group stages of participation. SASCOC maintains that a sports federation like SA Hockey agreed to sign off an understanding that didn’t guarantee Olympic participation via African qualifier. How could the hockey officials do this, knowing how the SA women’s hockey team has battled for sponsors an ad to pay their own international participation costs? Blame the officials, not the players for agreeing to this agreement!
For a country which doesn’t look after its sportswomen the way it supports its sportsmen, we must never expect the same world class results from all our sportswomen. At the same time, we must not suffocate and strangle their sports aspirations and hopes.
All qualifying women athletes and women sports teams must be given every opportunity to improve their world rankings and status; most importantly, be give all the support to gain confidence as they compete against formidable and fierce opponents of countries who believe in and support their sportswomen.