Banyana Banyana coach Desiree Ellis shares her thoughts on why women’s football is on the rise in South Africa and how there are limitless opportunities for women in football.
Earlier in 2018 I witnessed a Banyana Banyana side take the field against one of the world’s top teams, Sweden. The setting was the beautiful Cape Town Stadium – the first time our Senior Women’s National Team have played a match in a 2010 Fifa World Cup Stadium. I couldn’t help but be both proud and excited about the direction women’s football is going in South Africa. To see this team, the vast majority of whom started their careers in the Sasol League, now made up of multiple players playing abroad and playing a top side, filled me with hope.
To those who doubt the potential that women’s football in South Africa holds, you need only look at Banyana Banyana as evidence of what can be achieved. This is similarly true for me. Without football, Desiree from Hanover Park wouldn’t be where I am today. I have been able to not only live out my dream through football, but to make lifelong friends. The Sasol League, which shortly be hosting its national championships, was the starting point for most of our national players and [remains so] for most aspirant young footballers. Although still a semi-professional league, it gives footballers from all nine provinces the opportunity to go out and showcase their talents. Not many other women’s sports in our country can boast what the Sasol League has been able to achieve.
The Sasol League is made up of 144 teams and takes place in every province. It culminates with a national finals tournament, pitting the provincial winners against each other to crown a national champion. The national finals are broadcast live on SABC Television, giving its participants a massive opportunity to showcase their skills. The Sasol League also hosts provincial roadshows entailing a full round of league fixtures on one day at the same venue. These roadshows not only offer a local festival of football but also the opportunity for myself, in my capacity as Banyana Banyana head coach, to spot previously undiscovered young talent.
This year, together with our proud sponsors Sasol and the South African Football Association (Safa), we also added the #Limitless scouting initiative. The initiative forms a part of Sasol’s broader #Limitless campaign (designed to raise awareness around women’s football) and entails upskilling local Sasol League coaches at each roadshow on proper scouting techniques and what to look for in top quality players in each position. What this means for the future of the Sasol League is that opportunities for players to shine are no longer restricted to roadshows and the national finals, they have now become limitless.
The Sasol League, as it currently stands, is thus in my opinion arguably the top platform in South Africa for girls to launch a career for themselves in sport. The vast majority of the current Banyana Banyana squad either started in the league or are current participants in the league. It is both a platform to develop top talent and for top players to hone their skills. The Sasol League gives those with extraordinary ability the chance to climb the ladder to international football. Overall, however, it has the potential to give a generation of young women the opportunity to make friends, build character and create opportunities outside of sport.
While there is admittedly a long way to go to reach the levels we all dream of for women’s football in South Africa, it is undeniable that it is a sport on the up. This is evidenced by our national team’s recent qualification for the upcoming Africa Women’s Cup of Nations in Ghana (from 17 November to 1 December 2018), their crowning as the 2017 Caf National Team of the Year, retaining the Cosafa Women’s Championship title (having won it a record five times), and the constant increase in South African players going to play abroad.
With help from the likes of Safa and Sasol, I am confident that we will see a continuation of this upward trend. The next step is for the South African public to throw their support behind the sport. With your help, in the form of match attendance and TV viewership, we will be able to take women’s football to the next level. With the right planning and support, South Africa not only has the potential to see more of our players making a name for themselves in the world’s biggest leagues, but also to start seeing many more doing it for themselves here at home.
Photo: Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix