HAJI MOHAMED DAWJEE: Banyana Banyana don't get the support they deserve
We watched the Banyana Banyana game against China last night and the first thing that came to our minds was wondering whether every screen in every pub, bar, shebeen and restaurant screened the match the same way they do when any men play sports.
The answer, we soon discovered was a very strong no. Unless, of course, those places subscribed to DStv. Which many of them do, but it’s unlikely that many of them bother to screen women-centred sports. I have seen, for example, with my own eyes how men’s tennis matches take preferences over women’s. How channels are swiftly switched from the ladies’ final to some random boy sports like university rugby or underwater goat wrestling. How, even if women clientele ask for the channel to be changed, it’s a hard no, even though there’s only one man nursing a half-warm beer in the restaurant. No democracy in sports, it seems.
After a spirited opening match on Saturday against Spain, our national soccer team suffered at the hands of Spaniards when the opponents were granted two penalties seeing them victorious at 3-1. Then, last night, one player short due to a red card, the Chinese ran rings around us – one of the best teams in the world, with women’s soccer one of the main sporting focus points in their country – winning with a final score of 1-0. A narrow and unfortunate loss that will see our team face an early exit from their very first World Cup.
Now some may argue that it’s pointless supporting a women’s team. Women are, of course, seen as the weaker of the sexes, their sporting antics boring, they're slower, people will say, less exciting, and take fewer risks. But here’s a few facts we need to take into consideration: our national women’s team comes in at 49 on the Fifa rankings compared to Bafana Bafana’s lower down the list 73rd. Their coach Desiree Ellis, a retired midfielder, is the only person, yes, PERSON NOT WOMAN, to win the Cosafa cup both as a player and coach and during her tenure as Banyana Banyana’s coach, our team was voted as the 2017 CAF African Women’s Team of the year – an honour our male team is yet to receive. Team captain Jeanine van Wyk has more caps than ANY OTHER PLAYER, again, PLAYER NOT WOMAN PLAYER, and Portia Modise, her teammate, is the first African footballer to score 100 international goals. No other player is more iconic in South African football. Unless, of course, you count all the own goals Bafana Bafana scores - I’m sure they worldwide winners in that department.
This a momentous occasion in history, which the SABC has not bothered to purchase the license for, which means a vast majority of our public would be unable to view the games, even if they wanted to. How can we expect public support to change when parastatals don’t bother to lead the way, create any hype, pour any marketing into our star football team, or create reasons for our citizens to watch? Patriotism seems last on their list, never mind necessary and well-earned support for our women’s squad.
So evident is our lack of national support that Fifa itself has raised concerns. The commentator last night even seemed particularly biased toward our team as opposed to China’s, highlighting their strength and speed. This, while a lovely effort, paled in comparison to the support we should have been giving our team instead.
In May this year, Fifa released a statement blatantly stating that the South African women’s soccer team was not given the same level of support as Bafana Bafana. If the world governing body on soccer can recognise this, why can’t we?
Fifa chief women’s football officer Sarai Bareman called for South Africa to urgently address the disparities, saying: “I know when the men’s team qualified they did this thing called Bafana Bafana Fridays. I think after the team qualified and every single Friday everyone in the country put their national jerseys to recognise that the team has qualified and I asked are they doing the same thing for the Banyana Banyana and she said, ‘No’. And for me, I don’t understand why, because these girls here have sacrificed just as much as the men and they have achieved so much to get there.” Facts.
When last did you see the women’s kit being front and centre at sports stores, or even bootleg ones being sold at streetlights and markets? We’re so unaware that we don’t even bother selling flags or scarves or car paraphernalia decorated with our national flag in support of our country’s best soccer team. The only weak account of public support came from South African Football Association (Safa) president Danny Jordan, who called for South Africans to support the team on their World Cup journey, but this was back in May.
Banyana Banyana won’t feature in the final, or the top 16 of the World Cup roster, but this takes nothing away from their first-time feature in the tournament since its inception in 1993. Our team has come a long way, when will our support catch up?
Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of 'Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa'. Follow her on Twitter.