Africa’s Sportswomen Use Their Sports Prowess And Protest On The Frontline Cheryl Roberts

15 Dec

Africa’s sportswomen don’t have a continental organisation and voice speaking out for Africa’s women in sport. However, in significant initiatives on the continent, Africa’s sportswomen, especially the champions are challenging the hurdles, abuse and wrongs they face as women in sport.

Time is not on their side; they’ve waited too long and taken the crumbs and bad deals too often to be silent any longer. Now the sportswomen are using their sports prowess, calling out the way they are dissed, particularly by their national federations.

Africa’s sportswomen and women in sport lack an organised movement and voice speaking for them, calling out the deficiencies, challenging the imbalances and confronting the wrongs they face as women in a sports paradigm, controlled by men. Instead of waiting and waiting for an organised structure in Africa to appear as a voice platform for women in sport, several elite African sportswomen have not only found their voice; they are making it heard. And ensuring that its very loudly heard.

Africa’s sportswomen are using their sports prowess, coupled with their continental titles, world class status and Olympic medals to clap back and call out their mis-treatment in African sport.

Not only making international news but also gaining world wide support are Africa’s continental women’s football champions, Nigeria. Last week, a day after being crowned African women’s football champions in Cameroon, the continent’s phenomenal and title winning team made their intentions known. That was to stage a protest of occupying their hotel space.

Their demand was for their tournament bonuses and fees to be paid immediately. Their reason being they were done in badly before by the Nigerian Football Federation and didn’t want to be victims again of late and non-payments. The team members, including players and their triumphant winning coach are standing together. At first they occupied their hotel rooms, refusing to leave even when an official of NFF visited them to explain about the NFF’s bankrupt state of affairs.

The Nigerian women’s football team stood their ground stating it’s because they are women footballers they are being done in and not given the correct payments on time that is due to them. They also pointed out how the men’s football teams are looked after and paid timeously but the women footballers, including their woman coach, are dismissed and unfairly treated with promises of payments but nothing forthcoming, except delays. This week the national team players took to the streets and held a placard and chanting demonstration outside Nigeria’s parliament.

International media such as BBC Africa have given the women footballers and their protest good coverage and social media has been right by the side of the women footballers calling for the NFF to pay the players and not to mis-treat the continent’s champions.  .

In the absence of a strong movement representing women in sport and acting as the voice for sportswomen, the Nigerian women’s football team have personally undertaken their resistance against shoddy treatment and shown determination to challenge. This is not the first time an African women’s football team has protested about their performance payments. Over a year ago, newly crowned African Games champion, Ghana also embarked on protest, refusing to leave their hotel occupancy until the Ghanaian football federation had paid them the payments they were promised.

Returning from the Rio Olympics in August 2016 South Africa’s silver medallist, Sunette Viljoen immediately used her Olympic medal leverage calling out South Africa’s sports officialdom and officials for the ‘nominal support given to athletes’ whilst athletes barely coped with the funding allotted to them in the build up to Olympic participation. Using the power and voice of social media,  Sunette Viljoen bravely challenged sports officials for claiming the ‘victory of ten Olympic medals’ when, according to Viljoen, athletes still struggled for support and adequate financial assistance.

Also using her personal voice and sports prowess, Olympic champion, Caster Semenya

claps back at those who dare to criticise her body and being. Semenya simply tells the ‘haters’, they got nothing on her. For those who say she ‘talks and walks like a man’, she used the public platform at the SA Sports Awards and told them publicly to ‘tsek’.

The struggles and adversity faced by women in sport, especially black and working class sportswomen, have been noted and documented in some writings and OpEd articles and some sports officials have called out the gender discrimination faced by women, in sport.

What has not taken root is the formation of an organised structure that could be used as the power and voice so much needed to speak and challenge on behalf of women in sport. In South Africa there’s no organised protests against the gender inequalities prevailing in sport. That’s why male officialdom goes on controlling sport and taking decisions for women in sport.

In October this year, the African conference of the International Working Group for women in sport convened in Gaborone in Botswana. National governments and sports federations sent representatives to this gathering. But this is still at the talking stage with no continental structure being formally galvanised into action. This impacts on the organisation, development and advancement of women in sport and how sportswomen are looked after and treated.

Just like the Fallist student movement in South Africa galvanised students to engage, challenge and confront all that was deemed unacceptable to the critically conscious students, wrong and out of order in SA education, so too does women in sport need a movement that will protest, resist and challenge a sports network which easily dismisses women in sport whilst favouring men in sport.

Africa’s sportswomen, albeit in small pockets, have found their voice. These protests must grow bigger, become stronger. Women in sport in all African countries must refuse to accept sports controlling systems that exist to benefit men while women are given some crumbs here and there and expected to participate in sport, while still being in chains.



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