I’ve written extensively, though not yet exhaustively, about the litany of struggles and battles faced by women in sport, especially the hardships facing working class and black girls and women’s participation in sport.
Despite some assistance here and there from national and provincial government, sports federations don’t have healthy sports budgets to focus on girls and women’s participation in sport. Girls and women are participating in sport, from grassroots to elite and international levels. However, behind this participation are decades of struggle, struggle, and struggle to achieve their sports ambitions.
Sports officialdom knows about the gender inequalities in society which impact on women’s participation and affect how women are able to be assisted to develop and achieve. Because sport in South Africa is male-controlled and influenced, women’s sports advancement and aspirations are heavily influenced by male control of the sports apparatus.
And this means that a feminist and gender-sensitive lens for analysis and support of women in sport is rarely employed to spotlight gender imbalances and eliminate inequalities.
I mention the gender inequalities in all of my writings about women and sport. I never tire of doing this because I believe passionately in eliminating the stranglehold which male control has on the sports network in South Africa.
Throughout my activism of the past decade I have wanted elite and corporate women to not only speak out about the gender inequalities in sport but to also support women in sport, with a particular focus on the marginalised, left out, black and working class sports girls and sportswomen.
I have wanted black professional women, the rich black women and the elite corporate black women to use their power to direct funding to sport to be used largely for the benefit of advancing black girls and women in sport.
But this social responsibility from black women has not been forthcoming. Then we hear of SA’s black businesswoman Wendy Luhabe’s appointment as an executive to the Board of the International Rugby Board. And I think ‘but I have never heard you or seen you being quoted speaking out for black sportswomen.’
What makes a formerly oppressed black woman who has ‘made it’, in democratic South Africa, choose a largely male sport like rugby to give support and time to? What makes professional, moneyed black women sit on corporate and parastatal boards in their own country and watch these boards and companies give money to men’s sport whilst ignoring women in sport? How dare these black women be complicit in ensuring gender imbalances remain in sport and that black women remain traumatised and stressed because of their struggle to get sponsorship and funding? .
I’m not attacking businesswoman Wendy Luhabe. I’m calling out powerful, moneyed, corporate, elite black women about their silence and non-support of black girls and women in sport. Don’t the moneyed and rich and black businesswomen ask why black sportswomen struggle in sport, why is athlete Caster Semenya seemingly the only achieving black sportswoman internationally?
Sportswomen are struggling to perform within the male-dominated sports pyramid. Corporate sponsorships of women in sport are few. Sports budgets for sportswomen and sports girls are also just a little here and there and very small. Haven’t the powerful black South African women noticed this? Can they not come along and help support black sports girls and sportswomen?
Some black sportswomen are struggling after retirement from international sport, some are managing to set up foundations. However, most black sportswomen need support and help whilst participating in and competing in sport; financial assistance is particularly required, to cover all the expenses. Why can’t black women-led and headed corporates give some money to elite sportswomen when it’s the very same women who support corporates and buy their business products?
And then we see and approve of a black businesswoman’s appointment to an international sports federation and think, whilst congratulating her, ‘how could you bypass involvement in women’s sport in your own country’. Yeah, I know the choices are personal, dependent on one’s own happiness and pursuit.
But also remember that gender inequalities are not chosen by black women; they are thrust upon the lives of black women, because of structural inequalities, capitalist domination and patriarchal control. And surely black women, when they have achieved some power, can give back and assist to break the shackles and chains which strangle black women? In this instance, I’m talking about black women and their much needed support of struggling black sports girls and black sportswomen.