South Africa’s Black Women Athletes Don’t Get The Recognition They Deserve? By Cheryl Roberts

7 Apr

Despite their international sports achievements, South Africa’s elite black sportswomen are still confronted with the challenges of gender, class and colour oppression and prejudice. Through challenging terrain and overcoming difficulties, black sportswomen have become world and Paralympian sports champions. But these women are not celebrated and applauded or even supported as they should be, in the country they represent! The sportswomen are still struggling to stay top of their game, battling and hoping to attract sponsors.

South Africa’s black sportswomen have to fight hard, battle the odds, challenge adversity to own their space and claim their place as black women in sport. And then, when the black sportswomen achieve world and Paralympian gold medals and titles and become world class, invisibility and marginalisation of the black elite sportswomen further contributes to the non-recognition which achieving black sportswomen deserve.

You could be forgiven for thinking that South Africa’s black sportswomen are still emerging. You won’t be ruled off side altogether should you ask where are SA’s elite black sportswomen champions. South Africa has produced at least three black women world and Paralympian champions in Zanele Situ (Paralymian athlete), Noni Tenge (boxing), Caster Semenya (athletics), together with many world class black sportswomen like Mandisa Williams (rugby), Shabnim Ismail (cricket), Marsha Marescia (hockey), Janice Josephs (athletics).

Why are SA’s black sportswomen not given the same adoration, publicity and recognition as that thrust upon our sportswomen? Average and sometimes mediocre sportsmen get more attention and publicity than achieving black sportswomen.

This is not to say that women in sport and black sportswomen don’t get, or barely get spoken about and written about. Honestly, media attention and recognition of women in sport and their achievements and prowess has improved; this after much battle and challenge and calls for sportswomen to be recognised.

Both print and electronic media (radio and broadcasting) have increased their documentation and coverage of women in sport. Yet, its still the sportsmen and sports boys who dominate the sports pages, sports reels and sports content.

World and Paralympian champions, Noni Tenge, Zanele Situ and Caster Semenya should be publicised and recognised way ahead and much, much more than most football, cricket and rugby players whose national teams haven’t won continental and world titles in a long time.

Former world 800m champion, Caster Semenya does get mentioned in the media; this being done because of media more curious about Semenya’s love life and gender status than about the athletics prowess of the phenomenal woman athlete.

Black women in sport and elite black sportswomen are victims of a racially defined media which places emphasis on everyone else who is not a black woman in sport. Black women in sport are not viewed, by commercial media as being able to attract media advertisers or consumer sales, so black women are rarely featured on magazine and newspapers covers or the sports pages. Very often, out of 5 or 6 sports pages, daily newspapers will carry no content about women in sport; all the pages will be about sportsmen and boys in sport.

Its not only the media that continues to make invisible and marginalise the black sportswomen. Its also corporates and sponsors! These advertisers won’t use a black sportswoman who doesn’t fit their heterosexual, feminine, light skinned profile.

Paralympian Zanele Situ won Olympic gold at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

Why is Situ not a recognisable athlete? Why has Situ not adorned the sports pages so we could admire and appreciate our Paralympian champion? That’s because Zanele Situ is wheelchair bound and has to face the prejudices of colour, class and gender and disabled body.

The sportswomen are known within their sports federations but even within the sports federartion, the achievements of the sportswomen are overshadowed by the sportsmen. Some corporates and advertisers, when producing a sport-themed commercial or advert won’t use an achieving black sportswoman, preferring to use a white woman or light skinned model.

SA’s minister of sport, Fikile Mbalula has tried to raise awareness and the profile of women in sport, especially black women. However, these efforts are once off events, are not sustained because they don’t have long term implementation. What is needed is for focus throughout the country, to be centred on sportswomen and sports girls, for a media quota to be implemented and have women in sport being allocated their rightful percentage of sports media content.

SA’s black sportswomen are achieving without our country knowing this and being proud of our sportswomen. Sports girls and girls must be aware of these role models, so they can be inspired to achieve. If sportswomen content is increased in the media, that should assist our elite black sportswomen to be recognisable and admired.IMG_4289

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