South Africa’s sports women and women in sport have for too long and too many generations been done in badly by male-dominated officialdom in sport. Should this male control and reign of sport continue, not much advances are going to be made and fewer gains will be achieved for our sportswomen.
This means that girls and women in sport will continue to get some hand outs here and there, small amounts of financial allocation of sponsorship and the objective of sportswomen playing professional sport, in professional leagues and full-time, will be delayed and never materialised.
As women in sport, we point out that we are not against men in sport. What we are against and what we are challenging is how this male officialdom looks after the development and growth of men in sport and sportsmen, with very little attention given to advancing women in sport.
Men officials in sports federations can try as they want to, to allude to what they are doing for women in sport. The results and programmes are there for public viewing and scrutiny.
How are SA’s elite sportswomen expected to become world class and expected to achieve the desired Olympic Games results when they still compete in chains? The chains are around them constantly as they try to participate in sport as part-timers and struggle to get funding to compete internationally. SASCOC, thru its Operation Excellence Programme assists some sportswomen. But the sportswomen themselves will say how this funding is not enough; it just about helps them with monthly training expenses.
We have to just look at coaching to see how women in sport are neglected and marginalized. Why, after two decades of international participation, do national federations like netball and football rely on foreign coaches to coach these teams? And why are teams like women’s rugby, hockey, cricket, athletics and swimming and many others promoting male coaches to head national teams and no women coaches?
Male officials will say it’s because there are no experienced women coaches. But how do you expect the women to get experience and go thru the coaching system if you don’t create the coaching opportunities for them.
At this moment, one of SA’s most successful coaches is not a man. The coach is Tannie Anna Botha, a woman and coach of SA’s world 400m world champion, Wayde van Niekerk. Look at how successful a woman coach is Anna Botha. There are many potentially women coaches but SA sport is depriving itself of this talent by being fixated on male coaches and sometimes foreign coaches.
South Africa’s Rio Olympics team (able bodied sportspeople) is not only a story of happiness and unhappiness but also of gender injustices meted out to SA’s sportswomen. While Team SA has been defended by sport’s officials managing the country’s Olympic Games participation as just and honourable representation, behind this defense is a litany of unhappy, angry and very disappointed women in sport.
That’s because the sportswomen such as women’s rugby sevens and hockey and beach volleyball were not accepted into Team SA for participation at the Rio Olympics based on their low international rankings and also because SASCOC, the country’s controlling custodian of sport, officials and sports federation officials took a council decision not to select teams and athletes who were unlikely to be medal winners and finalists and semifinalists.
Who makes these decisions for women in sport? South African sport is male hegemonic defined; dominated, controlled and reinforced by men who control elite official positions, CEO and general manager responsibilities and most strategically, control sponsorship and funding. There are some women in elite positions. However, there are too few women and some of the women have been around in their positions for over 20 and 30 years thereby creating little opportunity for new women sports officials.
The women in elite sports officialdom rarely speak up and speak out against gender inequalities in sport and don’t contest male domination of sport. They are seemingly satisfied with just their selves getting a sports position and its like ‘a don’t care attitude about other women in sport’. If the women sports officials were fierce and resisted male domination of sport we would have seen and heard a dynamic sportswoman’s voice setting the women in sport agenda and programme to advance sportswomen.
So what is the road ahead for women in sport in South Africa? The Minister of Sport must show leadership and interrupt and disrupt male domination of sport in SA. This should be done by instructing SASCOC and its sports federations to be conscientised with a critical gender consciousness and to implement decisions with a critical gender lens. By doing this, at all time the gender inequalities in sport will be acknowledged and decisions and resolutions to propagate advancement of women and disruption of male domination of sport. The Minister of Sport must also lead the way and implement a national girls and women in sport programmme. Sport and Recreation South Africa, the national government department gets the government money to advance sport so this national initiative must come out of the funds and be allocated especially for sport.
Importantly and strategically, a national women’s representatives structure, existing solely for girls and women in sport, challenging and disrupting male control of sport, must be established. This structure/forum must not be meaningless and irrelevant or just a talk-shop. It must take decision and resolutions in the interests of women in sport, and make sure they deliver the desired results and objectives.
Relying on government and official sports structures to disrupt this male control and domination of sport might be having to wait for decades because the male-dominated sports officialdom ain’t going to challenge their privileged, domineering and dominant position. No, not all! So the best and provocative action is civil society, on the ground activism, led by the sportswomen themselves and supported by all who want to see male control of sport in SA disrupted and ended.