Stop The Neglect Of South Africa’s Black Women In Sport By Cheryl Roberts

22 Aug

With all of South Africa magnificently locked in dazzling Caster Semenya euphoria we can easily forget, hide away from and overlook the black sportswoman’s struggle, their inherited struggles and litany of battles to be funded, supported and acknowledged.
The one night of Olympic sparkle, when a black woman achieved the magical feat of becoming her country’s historic first black woman Olympic champion, easily puts temporary erasure on the struggling environment of SA’s black women athletes and coaches, in all sports.
Understanding this, we must not dismiss from the national discussion agenda on sport in SA, the struggle narrative of all black women in sport, including prolific junior talent, elite athletes and coaches.
It’s correct to note that, as a gender, SA’s sportswomen are given serial bad deals within their federations by sometimes having to personally pay for their costs to participate internationally and with the non-formation of national, professional leagues. Then they also overlooked by potential corporate funders and businesses, whom they support big time as consumers and often ignored by commercial media.
Given the historical oppression frame and continuing structural wealth inequalities in SA, it’s the black woman in sport that suffers most, confronting all the struggles associated with being black and woman, especially black working class. White sportswomen still manage to come through, get selected and perform remarkably.
The athletics prowess of talented black woman athlete Caster Semenya shines powerful light on black women achieving phenomenal feats in sport. There’s also the boxing feats of SA’s first black woman world boxing champion boxer, Noni Tenge, to be noted and that of SA’s first black woman Paralympian champion, Zanele Situ.
At the same time, we are reminded of the neglected, non-supported, under-resourced and barely funded black women in sport such as SA’s women’s football, rugby and softball teams and appearance of a few black women here and there in the national hockey, swimming and netball teams.
The emergence of SA’s first black woman Olympic champion has taken some time, but thankfully it has arrived. Just about every South African showed up for this global achievement by a black woman athlete. Yet, it’s the very same media and corporates, now supporting a black woman Olympic champion, that marginalise black women in sport by not giving the support they should be giving from their rich profits.
Furthermore, one black woman Olympic champion doesn’t mean that SA has plentiful elite black sportswomen, who are mostly world class or have high international rankings. Yes, we have much talent but it’s a struggle for them to become world class. We must ask why there are not more black sportswomen reflecting and displaying their sports talent on the world’s sports terrains?
While SA’s white sportswomen have, in the post-apartheid era, achieved Olympic titles, medals and finalist positions at the Olympics, the black sportswoman has been missing. The talented black sports girl and sportswoman exists but she participates in sport with much more chains than white sportswomen.
What are the constraints on black sportswomen and their emergence as national and continental champions and medalists and world class sportswomen?
Much of the development of black women in sport in SA must be contextualised within the racial/colour gender binary and class paradigm that black women occupy. Black women in sport are mostly working class, a small amount middle class and professional. The state of affairs in organised sport is that plentiful opportunities for black girls’ participation in sport at grassroots and community stages have been created and opened up. But it’s the ongoing and advanced development of the black girl and black women in sport that’s hardly supported, neglected much more.
Look at the player and athlete profiles. Where are the black women and black coaches in national teams of hockey, athletics, netball, triathlon, swimming, tennis, golf? And when black women dominate national representation in football and rugby and get to represent in cricket and boxing, they are not given adequate funding and support to succeed and achieve internationally.
What is this support that I’m talking about? It’s the assistance which all elite athletes require which allows them to concentrate on training and to be in their sport full-time and professionally without having work baggage being in the way and the hustle of finding ongoing funding to keep them going. It’s the support given to emerging elite athletes to compete regularly in international competition so they can measure their abilities, know their potential and improve performance. Most importantly, a black sportswoman’s talent must not be dismissed by white coaches who fail to recognise black talent through their ‘merit is white’ lens.
South Africa chanted in unison our support for our black woman champion Caster Semenya. We stood together as one nation in our Caster Semenya chorus. To the outside world this seemingly looks like we support our sportswomen, especially our black women in sport.
Breaking it down you see how elite black women are missing, how they struggle to participate in sport because their participation in organised sport is not backed up in their federations; no national leagues in softball, football and their sports, some sort of limited national league competition in netball, hockey.
And then it’s about the access to opportunities in many sports which concentrate on their player base coming out of better funded, suburban and private schools with the girls from township schools and working class communities being overlooked, because invariably the ‘merit is white’ lens says they ‘don’t have the technique’ for advanced development to get them selected to represent internationally.
In several Olympic sports like swimming, netball, hockey, golf, tennis, whiteness and white domination of player representation must be disrupted by volleys of challenges. We must do this if we want our black sportswomen to break through.
While we are together in celebrating the athletics feats of black woman Caster Semenya, we don’t have white people calling out the racial gender imbalances in SA sport; white people speak out for white sportswomen but never do we hear them call out the neglect of black women in sport. Whiteness never speaks out for those marginalised and under-funded and struggling but whiteness will speak for ‘merit in sport’ which for them is about white sports prowess and black sportswomen caged in perpetual development cages which never lets them out.
We’ve got to arrest this neglect of elite black sportswomen and black women coaches, implement a sustained national plan of support, encouragement and funding and create all the gaps and spaces for black women to occupy and break through. Failure to do something like this, will allow for more struggle and suffering and will see SA wasting black sportswomen talent, eventually withering and dying.IMG_3795

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