Performances on the international stage over the past few weeks once again highlighted the potential of South African women’s sport.
The SA netball team seem to be re-establishing themselves as one of the powerhouses of the sport, while road cyclist Ashleigh Moolman-Passio claimed her second overall Giro del Toscana title.
Caster Semenya raced to her record third world title while also becoming only the second South African to win two medals in individual events at the world athletics championships.
Two months ago rowing’s Kirsten McCann became the first SA women to win a gold medal at the at the World Cup regatta in Lucerne.
In July the Proteas cricket team stopped one match short of reaching the Women’s World Cup final, while the national women’s hockey team earned their places for next year’s World Cup in London.
Unfortunately these women are the exception rather that the norm in a world dominated by men.
A common thread in the success of these women is that that they all have some sort of support system both financially and structurally.
In 2013 Cricket SA (CSA) announced its first-ever allocation of national contracts to six women’s cricketers before extending it to 14 a year later. This was made possible largely thanks to Momentum’s investment in women’s cricket since 2013.
In most cases South Africa’s professional sportswomen have to hold up a permanent job with sport taking on a part-time role.
They are expected to perform against some of the world’s top teams where the athletes are professional athletes.
Semenya would not have been able to reach incredible heights in track and field if she had to first worry about putting food on the table before going to the track.
McCann has had the benefit of a system where most of her needs are looked after even though she might not be earning a salary.
The recent announcement by Rand Merchant Bank (RMB) that it would sponsor the national rowing squad will go a long way in giving McCann and her fellow rowers some sort of security.
McCann highlighted how South Africa is still stuck in patriarchal ways when it comes to sport.
“I think it has a lot to do with society and the expectations people place on women’s rowing, someone asked my fiancé how he feels about me doing so well at rowing,” McCann said.
‘He said ‘it didn’t change who she is, I respect her as a person and as an athlete’.
“That for me kind of showed there is a slight different expectations on men and women and it shouldn’t really be like that. It is quiet scary that people still think like that.”
The national netball team are not far from being professional; half of the squad are playing semi-professional and professional netball in England, Australia, and New Zealand.
It once again points to the value of allowing South African athletes to flourish without having to worry about how they will pay their bills.
South Africa’s female athletes are clearly good enough to hold their own against the best of the rest of the world.
Sports federations should make a greater effort in ensuring gender parity and allow our female athletes to perform without the pressures of societal norms.
Last week Proteas goal shooter Lenize Potgieter, who has been contracted to the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic in New Zealand, spoke of her disbelief that a netball players could have an agent.
In an equal society such a notion should not be so bizarre. Potgieter and the rest of our top female sportswomen deserve to be rewarded for their athletic ability like their male counterparts.