Women’s Football In South Africa Needs Urgent, Healthy Attention From SAFA! By Cheryl Roberts

10 Aug

No win performances by Banyana Banyana, South Africa’s senior women’s football team at the Rio Olympics have attracted lashings and harsh condemnation of the women’s team as being ‘useless’, ‘playing without determination and passion’, being ‘shocking and disappointing’. Much of the criticism questions why the team played with no tactics and strategies and why the players couldn’t score goals to win the matches.

Get this! Just by being ranked out of the top 50, Banyana Banyana was always going to find the playing field tough to challenge against formidable opponents, ranked in the world’s top ten and playing much more competitive internationals than Banyana plays in five years.

About Banyana’s dismal performances at the Rio Olympics, Coach Vera Pauw correctly puts blame on the absence of a national, professional league where women footballers would be playing full-time and concentrating on football as this would be their job, instead of being part–time, weekend non-payment league players. But hold on. While the competitive structure of women’s football in SA is definitely one of the reasons why Banyana Banyana will struggle against professional playing women’s football team, it is not the only reasons.

In one of my opinion writings, four years ago and commenting about Banyana’s debut performance at the Olympics in London I said that Banyana could not be expected to deliver winning results against world class teams when Banyana is a make-shift team most times, with little support from national body SAFA who puts most of football’s financial resources into boys and men’s football. A national, professional league for women’s football has been tirelessly called for and demanded as a necessity. SAFA says they are trying to initiate such a league but sponsors are not biting to sponsor the league.

Just over two years ago, when SAFA boldly appointed SA’s first woman coach of the national women’s team, Banyana had participated in an Olympic Games, but not in the women’s world cup. Under coach Vera Pauw, Banyana failed to qualify for the 2015 women’s world cup, they didn’t even reach the knock out stage of All Africa Games and they didn’t medal at the African championships.

But they managed to get one of Africa’s two qualifying women’s berths for the Rio Olympics. We must also admit that coach Vera Pauw did not fall into a well established and results-flowing women’s football administration within SAFA. Given the challenges that come with accepting a coaching job within SAFA, coach Pauw persisted with coaching Banyana under, at times, challenging environments.

However, Vera Pauw chose the players and squads and chose to play the team according to her assessment of how best to get positive results. But the results speak for themselves. Coach Pauw didn’t achieve much more than the previous Banyana coach. Soon after her coaching stint kicked in, Pauw complained to SAFA’s technical committee that her assistant SA women coaches were not helpful enough and she needed skilled backup. Without SAFA’s consent she brought into the Banyana coaching set up, another foreign woman coach to be her assistant. Banyana had several team training camps, played friendly matches and internationals. Together, these two foreign women coaches still didn’t take Banyana to greater heights.

Pauw’s team selections were based primarily on what players she saw in the Sasol league in Gauteng with a handful of players from outside Gauteng. Why didn’t she look for talent around the country? Surely there are another 4-6 blossoming players that Pauw could have drafted into Banyana Banyana from two years ago? Pauw has shown an unwillingness or any intention to discard Banyana Banyana of veteran players who can’t perform internationally and help the team to win. How can SAFA invest so much money in foreign coaches, yet these coaches are not developing SA’s emerging women footballers for future international play?

There’s no pivotal reason/s for SAFA to retain Vera Pauw as national women’s coach. Pauw and her team selections and tactics just haven’t delivered.

SAFA should say thank you to coach Vera Pauw but not prolong her contract. We need to move on and ahead and as a start, a change of coach/es is needed. Stop the cabal’s control of selections which are emphatically centered on the Gauteng region. There are players all around the country and coach Vera Pauw never saw these players, that’s why she thinks she had no player depth on the bench.

What do I mean by cabal control of women’s football? The cabal is that control of who gets selected, from which club and region they are selected and who gets appointed as a national coach and selector. Why is it the same few women involved in selection and coaching of the national teams like Banyana, under 20, under 17? Where are the Black African women coaches? Why are they not appointed as head coaches of the national girls u17 team and national u20 women’s team. Why is coach Sheryl Botes always associated with the u20 and youth teams like high performances and other coaches are not given opportunities to show what they can deliver? Spread the coaching and selection portfolios; bring more women coaches and selectors into the national coaching spheres.

What action must be undertaken immediately?

  1. Eliminate the cabal that controls women’s football, amongst them being the long serving but dangerous Fran Hilton Smith who is to blame for preferential coaches selection and player trials and subsequent selection. Control of women’s football by an elite domain within SAFA must be smashed! This cabal control is unhealthy and has impeded our women’s football development instead of taking women’s football forward.
  2. Change the Banyana Banyana coaches, including the head coach who has in my opinion served her time in over two years and seems unlikely to take Banyana forward with her selections and tactics. Some of the Banyana players sing Vera Pauw’s praise. That’s expected because after all, Pauw showed faith in them and selected them to perform.
  3. Appoint a South African woman coach as head coach. There’s Sheryl Botes, SA’s first highest qualified football coach who has been coaching the youth women’s teams for much too long and should now be given a crack at the head coach position of Banyana.
  4. Veteran and older players not performing must make way for young, emerging players who can change game style and adapt quicker to new game definitions of play. It’s better to invest in youth talent that can be further developed than to live in hope that the veteran, older player is going to score a goal like she did five years ago. Banyana cant be represented by players whose ambition is to get more internatioanl caps. We want Banyana to perform and achieve!

Look at the talent around the country! Not only in Gauteng. Football leagues are being played in all nine provinces and surely there must be you talent in these leagues; youth talent that can be molded and guided over 3-5 years.

  1. Many knowledgeable football people must be involved in this talent identification, not just a cabal of Vera Pauw, Fran Hilton Smith and Desiree Ellis. Speak to the coaches in the women’s football leagues, those who know and coach the players. Ask them to recommend players.
  2. Concentrate on under 17 and under 20 women’s squads that need regular international competition. And stop with one or two people being responsible for selection for these teams. Consult with coaches that coach the players in the football leagues around the country. And stop with last minute selections and calling up players a few days before they are due to play an international match. Get the basics in place!

Given that both the u17 girls and under 20 women’s teams have not qualified for or participated in world cups, the girl youth footballers must be emphatically supported to be nurtured into future senior internationals. To go forward, Banyana must aim for a top 40 ranking in 2017, top 30 in 2018 and top 20 in 2019. This can be achieved. We have the youth talent which must be developed and polished into senior internationals capable of scoring goals and winning internationals.13880121_10153593556756901_3719320025470378523_n

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