Why Are South Africa’s Black Sports Heroines Ignored? By Cheryl Roberts

23 Sep

South Africa thrives on its sports achievements; this being mostly male prowess in the sports of cricket, football, rugby. Sportswomen are celebrated, but not on the same level of sportsmen.

Given the massive sports media accorded to men in sport in SA’s broadcasting and print media, It’s no wonder that a small percentage of South Africans are aware of the sports achievements of the exceptional black sportswomen, Noni Tenge, Caster Semenya and Zanele Situ.

Women in sport struggle and battle for what is deservedly their share of media attention and publicity. While sports content has improved to include some content on sportswomen, women in sport are still not given the media space they should have. White sportswomen participate in much more sports than black women and get to achieve much more than black sportswomen which sees white sportswomen getting a higher percentage of sports media content.

I mention this because we must know how black women in sport are short changed, how black sportswomen are maginalised and mostly ignored in sports media, being remembered sometimes and mentioned in a few lines now and then.

Gender and colour inequalities and discrepancies in South Africa’s sports network have been analysed and broken down. Post-apartheid participation in sport has seen increasing opportunities opened up for black girls and women in sport. Through these opportunities, sports talent of black girls has surfaced and black women in sport have achieved from community sports levels, to provincial and national achievement.

Amazingly, despite their chains and the constraints which negatively impact on their participation in sport, some black sportswomen have attained phenomenal results like world class status, world champion titles and Olympic and Paralympic medals.

This being an Olympic and Paralympic year, the sports prowess of the awesome athlete Caster Semenya, aged 25 years, just couldn’t be ignored. Semenya’s athletics achievements in 2016 saw her becoming South Africa, African Olympic and Diamond Series champion, a feat no other South African woman athlete has ever claimed.

Paralympian champion, Zanele Situ, aged 45 years was already champion at the Sydney Paralympics but wasn’t given the media publicity her Paralympics triumphs earned. Its only during this Paralympic year that more South Africans have gotten to now about the sports prowess of black woman disabled athlete Zanele Situ who also won the bronze medal in her fifth consecutive Paralympics.

Then there’s the phenomenal boxing prowess of black woman Noni Tenge, 35 years old who is holding five world belts; a boxing feat attained by no other South African. Tenge has won world titles and successfully defended several world titles.

Caster Semenya, Zanele Situ and Noni Tenge have not only participated in club sport, on provincial and national sports stages and continental and world platforms, they have also achieved sports feats which today see them as Olympic medalists and world champions.

So why are Semenya, Situ and Tenge not the most adored, most publicised, most sponsored sports people in South Africa? Why have corporates not sponsored these amazing black women athletes with money, products and endorsements?

Prior to the Rio Olympics and Paralympics, Semenya and Situ were getting by on monthly stipends from SASCOC; these stipends are not much, just helping the athlete to get through the month with their training needs. Tenge depends on a promoter giving her fights; she has no monthly income from SASCOC. Situ and Tenge are virtually penniless, surviving on a monthly stipend and payments from occasional fights. They are nowhere near being a millionaire unlike sportsmen that have achieved far less and nothing much but still get corporate endorsements and financial incentives.

But then the fabulous Semenya has been in devastating form and has earned the lucrative payouts on the international athletics circuit. Semenya is a black sportswoman millionaire, for sure. But despite, her Olympic success and international achievements, corporates and businesses are not seeing Caster Semenya, the black woman athlete as a lucrative and deserving sponsored athlete. Why hasn’t Semenya been awarded some cars and houses or signed some lucrative sponsorship deals?

The answers are not difficult to understand. We are talking about women here and nit about about sportsmen. But these are not white sportswomen who are little more favoured by white content media and corporates. Semenya, Situ and Tenge are black women and black women in sport don’t dominate content of white-owned media (which is what most of media in South Africa is about) and don’t get sponsorship deals with corporates who think they get little returns from investing in black sportswomen.

Although they are highly achieving women in sport, these women are black, not fair-skinned. They are queer and disabled, not feminine and heterosexual.

Media and corporates have yet to respond to the phenomenal sports prowess and subsequent world achievements, triumphs and feats of black, non-feminine, queer women in sport.

Until now, these black sportswomen have been marginalised and not celebrated as they deservingly should. Their sports feats have earned their accolades. Why are they not being applauded regularly in the media and endorsed by corporates? It’s definitely got something to do with them not being white, feminine and heterosexual.south-african-sports-woman-october-2016-1

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