It’s no secret that women’s football is the poor cousin in South Africa. It’s not looked after properly, from the juniors right up to the senior national team.

“Women’s football is like a drug. We complain about issues around it but we keep going back,” said a club official, who agreed to speak to New Frame on condition of anonymity. He has been running a women’s football team for two decades.

Like a drug addict, he will do anything to make sure he gets his “fix”, even though he knows the side effects of his “addiction”. Almost every season, teams in the Sasol League have to wait for months on end to receive their annual R32 000 grants from the South African Football Association (Safa). These are paid in two tranches. The clubs get half the grant after the first round of fixtures and should receive the remainder just before the Sasol League National Championships, which are played towards the end of the year.

The club official has experienced late payments a number of times. His club received the remainder of their 2018 Sasol League grant in January.

The result of these late payments is that clubs who don’t have sponsors and depend solely on the grants sometimes struggle to honour their fixtures. And issues of late payments don’t affect only Sasol League clubs.

In July 2017, Banyana Banyana players decided not to return their kit as a form of protest when they did not receive their stipends after qualifying for the 2018 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations. Instead of the association assuring the players that they would be paid soon, it threatened to deduct part of their stipends to cover the cost of the unreturned kit.

Banyana no-payment outcry

Banyana players were on the verge of protesting again recently, threatening to strike just a few days before they faced Netherlands in the Winnie Madikizela-Mandela Challenge in January. Their frustration stemmed from Safa’s lack of communication. The association owed the players thousands of rands in bonuses and stipends for their performance in Ghana, from which they returned as the toast of the country after qualifying for the World Cup for the first time.

Safa paid the players a portion of the money it owed them after a Mail & Guardian article revealed their frustration and caused an outcry. That payment, along with a meeting between the players, Banyana management and Safa acting chief executive Russell Paul, averted the strike. The association paid the rest on 15 February, almost two months after Banyana’s heroics in Ghana.

It’s no secret that women’s football is the poor cousin in South Africa. It’s not looked after properly, from the juniors right up to the senior national team.

Bantwana were the pride of the nation when they qualified for the Fifa Women’s Under-17 World Cup for the second time in history. But they were quickly forgotten after being knocked out in the group stage. Not a single Safa official went to the airport to welcome the team home from Uruguay, while some members of the technical team say they still haven’t been paid for their work at the training camps leading up to the World Cup.

Even more humiliating was that the players had to take off their national team tracksuits at the airport. Although other teams such as Bafana Bafana also have to return their tracksuits, it had never happened in full view of the public.

A job you do because of the passion

“I stay in it because of the passion I have for women’s football. The hunger for success that the players have motivates me to keep going, even when the chips are down. That’s why Banyana Banyana players go back to the national team despite being paid late or not shown the same respect as their male counterparts. It’s the passion that they have for the game,” said the official.

Like many others in the game, he’s had to dip into his own pockets to keep the club afloat.

“It was never about money for me. I believe that we can achieve a lot more with the talent that we have in the country. We can get to a better level in world football. I just want to see women’s football grow,” he said.

Portia Modise, former Banyana captain and the first footballer in Africa (man or woman) to score more than 100 goals for their national team, is disappointed that women’s football still receives poor treatment from the governing body. Modise expressed her dissatisfaction at Banyana’s treatment and the poor salaries they’re paid at the Women and Sport breakfast hosted by Minister of Sport and Recreation Tokozile Xasa in August last year, with Safa vice-president Ria Ledwaba in attendance.

“With all the generations of Banyana players I have played with, we always thought that once we qualify for the World Cup we would be treated better. We hoped that they would look at us differently, but now I realise that it’s not about us doing well. People in power don’t love women’s football and this is dividing the nation. We don’t want that,” she said.

Modise has pleaded with Safa for more support for those owners and administrators at club level who use their own money to make sure they continue to operate. She says the only way the proposed national league will work is if heavyweight Premier Soccer League (PSL) administrators help out.

Long road to the national league

The first time South Africa was promised a professional women’s league was in 2008, by then Safa president Molefi Oliphant. Fast-forward to 2018 and Safa president Danny Jordaan announcing at the association’s extraordinary constitutional congress that a 12-team women’s national league would kick off in April. But this has already been pushed back to August, after the senior national team returns from the World Cup.

“I have been waiting for a professional league for years,” Modise said. “I am even retired now and we are still waiting. It was said that the league would start in April, but now we are told it will only happen in August. How can we trust them? Why is the PSL not involved? We won’t have a professional league without the men supporting us.”

A dedicated women’s football department seems a plausible way not only to grow women’s football but also to protect the interests of the players.

“Women’s football should have an independent office that will focus on the growth of the game. They forget about us when they mix us with the men’s development strategies. There should be proper planning that will ensure women’s football is taken to another level. They must give us a platform to run and grow women’s football. It will give us a chance to share ideas on how to grow it,” said the club official.

Safa’s response

Paul maintains that the association supports women’s football, especially financially.

“Over the past few years, Safa’s investment in women’s football is unparalleled,” he said. “Consider that in 2016, Safa invested R52.1 million in women’s football, [which was] split between the Under-13 and Under-15 LFA [Local Football Association] Leagues, HPC [High Performance Centre] Women’s Academy, Sasol Women’s League, Under-17 women’s national team, Under-20 women’s national team and Banyana.

“Safa’s vision for women’s football was further crystallised in 2013, when we carved out the pillars of Vision 2022, which declared a more holistic approach to the overall management of the game. It is therefore clear from a Safa perspective that the success being enjoyed by Banyana and women’s football in general is not by accident or overnight, but by clever design and hard work over the past few years.”

Modise is not convinced and says women’s football and women’s sport in general would benefit more if men in the sport industry advocated for change.

“Women deserve better, but we can’t do this alone,” Modise said. “They [male athletes and administrators] need to assist us to take women’s sport to the next level. Women in other sporting codes are experiencing similar challenges. We can do better as a country.”

This article was originally published by New Frame.