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After Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies' epic conquest, it's clear why women's football enjoys the pride of place

Bambanani Nolufefe Mbane, Rhoda Mulaudzi, Melinda Kgadiete and Regina Mogolola of Mamelodi Sundowns celebrates their Champions League win. Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

Bambanani Nolufefe Mbane, Rhoda Mulaudzi, Melinda Kgadiete and Regina Mogolola of Mamelodi Sundowns celebrates their Champions League win. Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

Published Nov 23, 2021


Cape Town - The ability to harness the vast potential of untapped talent has underpinned the growth of local women's football and the subsequent rise of Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies as Africa's Champions League winners.

The South African Football Association (SAFA) have created sustainable opportunities to ensure the game grows exponentially at all levels. The three-time SA champions Sundowns Ladies play in the 14-team Hollywoodbets Super League, the country's premier football league, now in its 11th year,

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Lower down, the Sasol Women’s League, comprising 144 teams in nine provinces, tap into potential far and wide. There are around 3000 registered players at this level.

Down at the grassroots level, the SAFA Regional Women’s League is played in 52 SAFA Regions. Competition at this level occupies a critical space in football development and acts as a feeder for the higher tier teams, and eventually Banyana Banyana, the national team.

These leagues are serviced in various ways to ensure players rise through the ranks and find their way into the senior teams. Some of the better players could also end up abroad, and in the past three years, there have been 29 players at foreign clubs in Europe, China and USA.

The two outstanding talents have been Banyana Banyana stalwarts Thembi Kgatlana who plays for Spanish Primera División club Atlético Madrid and Refiloe Jane, who plies her trade at Italian Serie A club AC Milan.

All tiers of women's football are serviced with dedicated funding, some of which come from the 2010 FIFA World Cup Legacy Trust, development programmes and human resources. There is a constant input of up-to-date coaching information and materials. The national coach Desiree Ellis is a member of the FIFA Technical Advisory Group (TAG), chaired by her namesake Jill Ellis, the English-born American who is an authority on women's football coaching.

Desiree Ellis ensures that the know-how on coaching, refereeing, and sports science as it affects women’s football filters down to all levels of the game.

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All of this has helped to lay the foundations for teams like Sundowns and Banyana Banyana to stand out on the most expansive stages. Sundowns have just won the Champions League and Banyana Banyana this year defeated traditional African powerhouses Ghana (3-0) and Nigeria (4-2) in Lagos, Nigeria. A few years ago, this would have been unthinkable.

Uniquely, SAFA has also gone to great lengths to ensure that all national teams (Basetsana, Bantwana etc) all have women as head coaches. It has been immensely encouraging for women to step forward to guide female teams at all levels of competition.

Also unique is that all female matches have only female referees, and some have been vastly impressive at higher levels. Recently, aSA ref Akhona Makalima handled the blue-ribband opening clash at the inaugural CAF Women’s Champions League.

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Makalima, the first FIFA certified female referee in South Africa, has also graduated into the ranks of the Premier Soccer League, the elite professional league of men's football in South Africa. She is totally at ease at this level, even though players preface their loud appeals with: 'Mr Ref'.

All in all, the country's support systems, vision and objectives have all contributed to changing the narrative of SA women's football, be it as players or administrators.


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