Control Of Black Sportswomen Bodies Also Instigated By Corporate South Africa By Cheryl Roberts

7 May

A recent controversial regulation of the International Athletics Federation has alerted us to how a largely ageing, male-dominated and white sport leadership is intent on defining a black sportswoman body; that body being of South Africa’s black woman champion Caster Semenya. Get this! The IAAF regulation clearly aimed, at this juncture, of policing the body of one particular champion black woman athlete, doesn’t make global athletics the only guilty sport-connected of being intent on defining a black sportswoman body.

Here in South Africa, corporates especially also seek to define and impose corporate restrictions on a black sportswoman body. Given some opportunities, together with their talent in post-apartheid South Africa, we have seen the surfacing of several world champion and world class elite black sportswomen.

These are sportswomen like world boxing champion, Noni Tenge, world class footballer,  Portia Modise, world class netballers, Sindi Gumede, Bongi Msomi and Phumza Maweni, Olympic champion, Caster Semenya, Paralympic champion, Zanele Situ and wheelchair tennis player, Kgothatso Montjane, cricketers, Shabnim Ismail and Ayabonga Khaka. How many of these world champion and world class black sportswomen have been associated with corporate sponsorship and endorsements  and funding? Does South Africa really know, through intensive media profiling and commercial publicity, the country’s world class and champion black sportswomen? Are we aware of their reality being that most achieving black sportswomen still have to struggle to work and play international sport as part-timers, earning meagre and little incomes from participation in sport?

SA’s black sportswomen, coming out of working class families and communities, their families not yet recovered from the harsh oppression of apartheid, have struggled to achieve their world class positions, world and Olympic titles. You would expect all of them to have earned millions from corporate endorsements, leaving them with adequate money for their post-international sport retirement life. The truth is that most of them have never gotten one phone call from a corporate to speak further about sponblack sportswomansorship and endorsements.

Why are South Africa’s world champion and world class black sportswomen, especially the non-feminine conforming sportswomen, ignored by corporates in SA and international corporates? My upfront question: is it because they do not fit the stereotypical white, blonde, slim/thin, feminine sportswoman classification according to corporate desire?

Some of the black sportswomen are disabled participants in sport like Zanele Situ and Kgothatso Montjane, some are non-feminine conforming like boxer Noni Tenge, footballer Portia Modise and athlete Caster Semenya and some are just not fair and blonde like netballers Phumza Maweni, Sindi Gumede and Bongi Msomi and cricketers, Shabnim Ismail.

They are sportswomen, damnit! They are not models, modelling their lives, bodies and lifestyles on demands of corporates. They are comfortable in their skin, their bodies and identify. And they are achieving sportswomen.

Yet corporates associated with sport, consistently reveal how they prefer certain people in sport, that ‘fit their gaze’, like men and sometimes fair skinned and blonde sportswomen. In South Africa, sportsmen are associated with corporate sponsorships but these highly achieving black sportswomen are not.

And what do you think is the reasoning behind these elite black sportswomen being ignored by corporates? Its because the ignorant, sexist, misogynistic, racist mindsets, coupled with ‘the gaze’ of marketing and executives of some corporates are likely to give some outdated reason like ‘we associate with the one that fits our brand’. Why can’t a world class, world champion black sportswoman ‘fit your brand’?

Are corporates not also defining and controlling black sportswomen bodies by ignoring and marginalising them? Yes, they indeed are policing the black sportswoman body by refusing them corporate association/deals.

It’s correct to note that South Africa’s sportswomen struggle for acknowledgement, publicity, sponsorship and gender equality in sport. But not all sportswomen have the same struggles because of their race, class, colour and sexuality. And it’s the black sportswoman, the sportswoman who is disabled, non-feminine conforming who ‘suffers’ the gaze of those who define how a black sportswoman should look and be presented.

Oh yes, let’s not deny this. Right here in South Africa, black sportswomen, despite their amazing international sports feats, are still ignored by corporates! Black sportswomen, despite achieving on the international sports stage still struggle to survive, live and play elite sport.

Corporates in South Africa make big profits from black women consumers, yet they ignore black sportswomen for sponsorship relationships. Why has this been for so long? Why is it still being done? We must call out corporate South Africa, ask them to explain, to give reason why they are not signing sponsorship deals with winning and achieving black sportswomen?

Is it because the black sportswoman body is not how they want to see a sportswoman?  Is it because they want to be associated with feminine conforming, cis het sportswomen? But this alludes to control and marginalisaton of the black sportswoman body! Corporates are controlling the black sportswoman body by holding back their deserving sponsorship association, arising from their world class sports achievements.

And then you get some corporates seemingly showing concern about international regulations aimed at controlling South African black woman athlete Caster Semenya. But you corporates do the same! You police, define and control women in sport by marginalising elite and achieving black sportswomen by nor signing their contracts or endorsements. We have the sponsorship facts and realities. We know what we are arguing against and whom we are calling out. By ignoring the international achievements of black sportswomen, corporate South Africa is also guilty of policing, defining and controlling black sportswomen bodies.

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