Why Wasn’t Applause For Fabulous Black Sportswomen Achievements Thunderous? By Cheryl Roberts

14 Sep

It all happened in about one week. That’s when Black sportswomen slayed fabulously on the international sports stages around the world. And, amongst the slayers were South Africa’s black sportswomen, too.

Black women achieving in sport didn’t just happen recently. Despite their struggles, adversities and chains associated with being black, they’ve been slaying for some time and for some decades. But its been the one black sportswoman here and another later, somewhere there.

Amongst the amazing black sportswomen feats in one incredible week of sports triumph, there was Sloan Stephens’ magnificent US Open tennis championship victory, after being ranked somewhere in the 900’s through being out of competitive play because of injury. There was also Kenyan athlete Joyciline Jepkosgei who broke the world 10k record at an IAAF Gold Label Road Race in Prague.

South Africa’s black sportswomen, too were on the achieving page and stage. There was the awesome boxing achievements of South Africa’s black sportswomen. World champion Noni Tenge successfully defended her WBF title and Unathi Myekeni successfully claimed a world title. World class netballer Bongi Msomi, captain of the SA netball team led the national team to a famous historical win over England.

Get this! These women are black. They have not had easy pathways to international sports glory. They have emerged from grassroots sport to international triumphs.

So we know the black sportswomen performed and achieved fabulously. But why wasn’t the applause for these incredible achievements, especially of the South African black sportswomen, so loud that it would have been heard in both southern and northern hemispheres?

Yes, there were congratulations and acknowledgements of Noni Tenge, Unathi Myekeni and Bongi Msomi’s triumphs. But it was white sportsman and professional tennis player Kevin Anderson who seemingly got much more attention and publicity than the three black sportswomen all together.

What is it with South Africa that we just can’t celebrate with thunderous and deafening applause our black sportswomen? But then again, because of scant and now-and-then media publicity of black women in sport, much of SA don’t know about our black women world boxing champions nor about our Paralympic champion, Zanele Situ. And it’s really the larger netball community that knows about world class players Bongi Msomi and Pumza Maweni.

These black sportswomen, despite their amazing sports achievements like world, Olympic, Paralympic titles and world class status, just don’t attract corporate attention or association. But sportsmen who haven’t achieved as enormously and fabulously as the black sportsmen get corporate business and sponsorship contracts. How do you call this?

What the black women boxers Noni Tenge and Unathi Myekeni achieved in one night was phenomenal for country, women and blackness. As people got to know about their world titles, especially through social media, their sports prowess got some acknowledgement. But it wasn’t loud enough. It wasn’t as deafening as it should have been. Two world boxing titles by women were achieved by South Africans, in a boxing championship in South Africa, in one night. Yet, these world champion black women boxers were not celebrated as their global sports achievements deserved. And the sponsors and corporates still haven’t contacted them.

It’s a fact that media, publicity and sponsorship in sport in South Africa heavily favours the sportsmen and not the women in sport. Commercial media has, over the past decade given a little more space to sportswomen and men in sport. Sports fans and sports consumers often say they didn’t know that a ‘black woman boxing champion existed’, or ‘women played cricket and rugby’, or when national and international fixtures featuring women were taking place. Hence, sportswomen and their achievements/defeats/triumphs are lesser known

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Noni Tenge: World women’s boxing champion

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Pumza Maweni: South African international netballer

and not as loudly celebrated as should be.

Celebration of sports achievements is very gendered with sportsmen getting loud and thunderous applause whilst sportswomen, especially black achieving sportswomen, get some acknowledgement in the moment of the sports triumph like Olympic and world champion Caster Semenya, and then seemingly forgotten about. Black sportswomen rarely get corporate sponsors or business/sports contracts, sometimes they get some commercial media, and in between some award recognition. This is how a patriarchal, sexist, male-dominated society impacts on sports applause and celebration. This is how male hegemony, male control supervises and takes care of male domination. Black sportswomen, despite their impressive and incredible sports feats, are dissed and largely unacknowledged.

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