SAFA’s Proposed Women’s Football National League: How Will It Take-Off? By Cheryl Roberts

27 Jun

Several African countries are further ahead than South Africa in women’s football with their national women’s football league. To date, South Africa has only provincial leagues but no national women’s football league. After consistent and mounting calls for a national women’s football league, SAFA is under pressure to initiate and structure South Africa’s first national women’s football league. Media reports have SAFA indicating its intention to launch a national women’s football league, starting in 2019. A sponsor of this proposed league is still being sought, by SAFA. If men’s football attracts sponsors, then why can’t women’s football also get sponsored?

SAFA hasn’t said much about this national league except to announce their intention to launch such a national league for women’s football to be further developed. But this proposed national league didn’t even call for submissions or ideas from women’s football teams already involved in the provincial leagues. Through media reports, SAFA gives some indication about this proposed league. Something like, it will be a 12 team league with the two PSL connected teams of Sundowns and Bloemfontein Celtic being given automatic entry into the league. But why is this being done?

For a start, this envisaged national women’s league should be a separate entity from the men’s PSL teams – that has never concerned itself with setting up a national women’s league. (just as a reminder). This national league must be titled South Africa: Women’s Football National League (WFNL) and must be owned, curated, structured and managed by SAFA with no team connection to the men’s PSL. What happens should these PSL teams of Sundowns and Bloemfontein Celtic be sold and be moved to another province? What happens to the players and location of the team?

So what we know thus far is that the proposed league will feature all 2018 provincial league winners, including USSA women’s football national champions. There is no idea yet if this league will be played over a playing season with teams travelling around the country to play each other or whether this league will be a once off national tournament, played over a month. But a league indicates a league competition with all teams playing each other, on a home and away basis.

Why is SAFA giving direct qualification to two PSL teams such as Sundowns and Bloemfontein Celtic? On their own, these are both provincial champion teams and can get their own qualification into the league. If they going to automatic qualification just for being connected to PSL teams, then why don’t teams who have consistent top finishes at the national play-offs be given automatic entry into the league? It’s a positive to include tertiary sport national champions. But then again why not consider all nine provincial champions of the 2018 Sasol Leagues with wild cards going to other teams that have been around for about 8-10 years and have achieved top placings in Sasol Leagues and the national playoffs?

Another question: Why is there no consideration to groom and develop emerging footballers such as under 20 women players by giving them competitive play in this national league? SAFA has a high performance girls football centre in Gauteng. Girl footballers are selected from around the country to attend this football school. The girl footballers play no league matches, they just practice. Speaking to some of the girl footballers who’ve attended this high performance, you will hear about their frustrations about not playing league football in their time spent at the high performance centre.

A high performance under 20 teams need to be included in this national league, instead of giving automatic qualification to the two PSL connected women’s teams. This will give much motivation to the girl footballers training at this centre and will also prepare them competitively for under 17 and under 20 African world cup qualifiers.

Already with the proposal being mooted by SAFA, this national league will have some quality teams and some very weak teams, as indicated, over the years, by provincial performances at the national playoffs.

 We must be honest and acknowledge that at least three provinces should have at least two teams in this national league, that being Gauteng, KZN and Western Cape because of the football quality in these regions.

What about the idea of playing a national league as that played by netball’s national league? This will be played on a regional team representation with matches being KZN v Gauteng, Western Cape v Northern Cape, North West v Limpopo. This will ensure player depth and quality players are selected for the provincial team, instead of it being just a one team representing a province in the national league. Meantime, women’s football teams should be further strengthened in the provincial leagues, and the national playoffs will continue.

And then again how does SAFA expect teams to gather themselves and perform when SAFA doesn’t pay out the sponsored Sasol grant money to teams before kickoff of the provincial leagues? With the proposal of a national league out there, women’s football teams are struggling to survive because volunteer coaches and officials have to mostly carry costs to play league because SAFA delays payments of the sponsored grants.

Get this! Most women’s football teams, except for the PSL connected teams and tertiary sport teams and independently sponsored teams, are one or two person managed teams. This is usually done by the coach and an assistant volunteer. There exists a big gap in management of provincial women’s football teams to what is expected of those playing in a national league.

And the crucial question is: Will this proposed national league be a professional league with players playing full-time? Will players get paid salaries? Will schoolgirl footballers get paid to play in the pro league? Will players get bought from other teams/clubs? Will provincial teams be paid for players leaving their teams to play in the national pro league because all teams will need to be strengthened and require additional players from other teams?

The growth and development of women’s football in South Africa is demanding the establishment of an operational, sponsored/funded national league. Women’s football teams welcome the reports they are hearing but they remain sceptical about SAFA’s reported indication. Women footballers want to know more about this national league, they want to be excited about this initiative. Perhaps SAFA is waiting to confirm a sponsor before they announce all about the national league. Whatever is finally announced by SAFA must ensure that growth and development of elite women’s football will be fully supported with the creation of this inaugural national league. IMG_1982

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