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South Africa’s sports paradigm is filled with inequalities resulting from unequal distribution and allocation of financial resources, and the harshest of these inequalities affect people’s class, social and gender positioning in sport.
This being Women’s Month, I use this opportunity yet again to speak out against the gender imbalances which severely prohibit and impede development of our girls and women as they strive to develop through the sports pyramid.
Over the past 20 years, pressure, activism and gender inequality awareness have raised consciousness, but not enough is being done to ensure that our sportswomen get the best allocations and support, just like our sportsmen.
We have just come off another participation in Olympic Games and now go into the Paralympics Games, beginning in London this week.
For the average thinking sports consumer, those who don’t question gender constructs and imbalances in society, it appears that SA’s sportswomen are useless, have no talent, and should not be competing on the international sports stage because they can’t win medals.
SA’s women Olympians and Paralympians have achieved just about all that can be expected of them when they compete among and with the world’s best in various disciplines, given the shortcuts and piecemeal handouts with which they have to cope.
Those in control of the SA sports network – mostly men – do not consider women’s development in sport, prioritising the devlopment of men.
So who do the sportswomen turn to, and to whom do they cry out?
In 10 years’ time, I don’t want to be writing about gender inequalities and pleading for assistance.
I want to be celebrating and applauding a sports structure that does not discriminate against girls and women.
The time has arrived for us to stop complaining, because we already know gender imbalances exist and acknowledge the stressful situations under which our sportswomen are forced to compete.
It is time we refused to accept this deficient terrain.
Sports federations tasked with organising and developing girls and women in sport, from club to elite level, often place the blame at the door of corporates which refuse to assist sportswomen, despite women’s buying power.
Government sports departments, under various ministers and MECs, have also recklessly and negligently treated women in sport, with some support and assistance here and there.
Despite this minimal and at times absence of support, our sportswomen continue to believe in their talents and worth, and continue to work hard at training in order to achieve and make SA proud.
We should not compare our sportswomen to their Jamaican and US counterparts, other women athletes elsewhere, world-class swimmers and tennis players and achieving world champions and Olympic medallists when we send them out to compete with chains around their legs.
Sports such as netball and football must set up national professional leagues for women.
High-performance sport must concentrate on women, with exclusive funding for women, not just on an ad hoc basis – such as a year before the Games – but over a consistent period, if we are to appreciate the talent of our sportswomen.
Admittedly, despite the glaring inequalities in our sports paradigm, there is no organised voice and activism to challenge the elite and powerful men who control and allocate the money.
Somewhere and somehow this voice has to emerge if we are intent on creating and maintaining opportunities for sportsgirls and sportswomen, especially the black, rural and working class women in sport.
Most importantly, we know that gender discrimination and inequalities exist and we have complained and continue to raise our individual voices against them.
But we don’t want to spend our precious lives complaining. Now it’s up to the government to deliver in the interest and protection of our sportswomen, and to legislate against gender inequality in sport.
* Roberts has written and published several publications on sport and recreation in South Africa, including the social positioning of sport in society, women and sport, non-racial sport and the anti-apartheid sport struggle. She is a writer, sports and social justice activist, independent publisher, sports analyst and social commentator, as well as an activist who writes and speaks from grassroots to international level, on gender, social inequalities and imbalances, and sport.