Phenomenal Black Women Represent South Africa At Rio Olympics By Cheryl Roberts

14 Aug

South Africa has embarrassed their sportswomen with meagre financial support and non-establishment of professional leagues to allow the women in sport to play sport full-time and professionally but still the country’s black sportswomen manage to break the barriers which stand in their way of advancement.
No Black South African elite sportswoman’s story is without triumph against adversity. For those women who do manage to participate internationally and achieve, the constraints have been tough and hard to carry and break. But the black woman in sport still triumphs against the odds.
At the Rio Olympics, the world’s global showpiece of the best sports people in the world together with those who have triumphed over adversity and struggled to reach Olympic participation are SA’s sportswomen who have travelled journeys against adversity.
Two phenomenal women at the Rio Olympics are Odessa Swarts and Caster Semenya; Swarts is mother of world 400m champions, Wayde van Niekerk and Semenya is Olympic participant in the 800m.
A talented sprint athlete during the apartheid era, Odessa Swarts never had the opportunity to participate in an Olympic Games because of apartheid. She was the anti-apartheid, non-racial sprint champion who played sport while also advocating for the elimination of apartheid through sport. Today, this talented athlete mother is able to support her son Wayde on the international sports terrain because South Africa participates in sport as a democratic country, acceptable to international sport.
Running for herself, her village and community, her Limpopo province and her country South Africa, Caster Semenya represents black women in democratic South Africa; she’s out there for black, queer, trans, gay, rural, working class, abused athletes, disadvantaged and black sportswomen, showing the athletics prowess of a black sportswoman.
South Africa’s black women were oppressed and exploited by the apartheid regime’s laws. Yet, black women not only managed to get themselves into sports spaces and into organised sport but they also achieved champion status. Much talent abounded in black women’s sport but this talent had a ceiling because of apartheid, with inter-provincial and national competitions being the highest forms of participation in sport.
With the advent of democratic SA, a new era was ushered in; that of creating opportunities for black women to participate in sport. SA sport is conservative and male-controlled. Women did emerge with talent in post-apartheid SA. We saw mostly white sportswomen’s talent being supported with black sportswomen struggling to get support beyond provincial sport.
And then came the sensational talent of young Caster Semenya. Conservative, heterosexual, male-controlled society didn’t know how to respond to the talent and being that was Caster Semenya. When conservative, white and colonial supremacist forces attacked Semenya’s body, SA sport officials weren’t conscientised with formidable responses to protect the sensational talent of athlete Caster Semenya.
Now grown into an amazing, world class woman athlete, Caster Semenya, has first and foremost protected herself because the only person who can do this is Caster herself. She has been clean in doping tests, she has trained exhaustively and she has kicked it on the track. Now she is a top five 800m woman athlete in the world.
While prying, curious, conservative, heterosexual, whiteness and colonial mentalities are surfacing to break down Caster Semenya, the athlete is participating in world athletics on her terms. She is breaking no rules of international sport and is totally compliant. Caster Semenya represents the black and African woman who encounters racism, sexual prejudice, and gender policing of her body.
But just as anti-apartheid sportswomen faced the harshness of apartheid yet found spaces to escape from this harshness, today’s black sportswoman in SA is also occupying spaces to put black women out there. For Odessa Swarts and Caster Semenya and all other black sportswomen that space is the sports terrain.
The sacrifices of anti-apartheid athletes like Odessa Swarts to play sport to get freedom from apartheid have not been forgotten. In this democratic era, the remarkable is happening whereby anti-apartheid sports people see their children not only participating in international sport, but also achieving fabulously.
Apartheid told the world that black women didn’t play sport and couldn’t play sport. Out of our chains, democratic SA has unleashed the talent of Caster Semenya and the world didn’t expect such a talent. Now that this black sportswoman prowess is out there, the questions and criticism are being made up, with all emphasis on ridiculing a black woman’s body and of course her talent.
Swarts and Semenya represent all black women’s strength and personal power. It’s hard to break them down! With most of SA cheering on a mother’s son in the 400m at the Rio Olympics and an awesome black woman athlete in the 800m, those doing the criticising of Caster Semenya are not going to win against the fierce, bold and very strong Caster Semenya. And we are not going to allow any black woman’s body or being to be attacked by racist legislation and gender policing. IMG_8310

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