JOHANNESBURG – South African sport desperately wants to play in the World Cup and world championship sports events to show its prowess and to try and achieve the dream of being world champions.
South Africa's senior women's football team, Banyana Banyana, also wanted to play in a women's football World Cup. They have now achieved the goal of qualifying for one.
Banyana were desperate and seemingly hungry to win one of three World Cup qualification berths offered by Fifa to Africa. In 2014, they tried to achieve that sought-after World Cup place, after featuring in four Africa Women Cup of Nations (Awcon) finals before that and participating in the 2012 Olympic Games. But they did not get it.
The 2018 edition of Awcon would be Banyana’s best chance of aiming for and getting it. Get this!
Teams like Nigeria, Cameroon, Zambia and Ghana hadn't had as many national training camps or played as many internationals as South Africa had over the past four years, especially the last two.
The South African Football Association (Safa) ensured that Banyana Banyana had a massive management/technical team.
Banyana’s sponsors ensured that all-expenses-paid media would be supporting our national team.
Nigeria, though ranked about 38 in the world, didn't play an international in 2017, nor hold a national training camp. Equatorial Guinea got banned by Fifa, got into Awcon, then got kicked out, then got back in and didn't know where they stood. World-ranked 116 Zambia and 89th-ranked Mali also didn't get much international team competition. Everything stood in favour of Banyana Banyana.
Surely they would seize this one opportune moment and get the world cup qualification? After all, South Africa's senior women's football team is well supported by Safa and its national sponsor. Yes, the national team players do receive their payments late from Safa but unlike some of South Africa's national sportswomen teams of softball, hockey, swimming, Banyana Banyana have all national training camp costs and international playing expenses covered by Safa and the sponsor.
They don't have to agonise about personally paying for costs to represent their country. All Banyana Banyana had to do was show improvement and positive results. And that improvement had to be a World Cup qualification.
Much of Safa’s budget is spent on Banyana Banyana, giving them some opportunities and international competition, together with payments, while girls’ football is neglected.
Most of the attention, support, sponsorship and Safa women's football budget has been spent on Banyana Banyana.
Now they knew they just had to get that World Cup qualification. There were no excuses left. The Banyana players and technical personnel all knew this.
Failure to qualify for the 2019 women's football World Cup would have left all who make up Banyana Banyana traumatised for the rest of their lives as they would have had to wonder how a team that was so well supported, playing against lower-ranked teams than them, just couldn't get one of three World Cup places.
Cheryl Roberts is a social commentator and analyst on the social positioning of South African sport.