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PROFESSIONAL WOMEN’S LEAGUE Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies TeamAuthor: Thulani MkosiThe continuing rise of women's football in South Africa has once again been evident in 2023 as the senior women's national team Banyana Banyana and African giants Mamelodi Sundowns have proven with their scintillating performances in their respective competitions.The reigning Women's Africa Cup of Nations champions were impressive at the FIFA Women's World Cup in New Zealand and Australia earlier this year, where they managed to progress to the knockout stages for the first time in their second attempt.A loss to Sweden, a draw against Argentina, and an impressive victory against Italy saw them progress to round 16, where they would eventually succumb to a 2-0 knockout loss against European powerhouses in the form of the Netherlands. Despite losing out at the first knockout hurdle, Banyana stood their ground and competed against some of the best players in the world, and the players must have taken many positives from their showing at the global showpiece. Positives that instilled pride and optimism in the growth of women's football in the country. A little closer to home, Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies showed their mettle as African giants by winning the CAF Women's Champions League (CAFWCL) for the second time in the tournament's three editions, and they did so without conceding a single goal – A feat that is incredibly impressive and highlights the strengths that our female footballers possess. With these impressive showings from Banyana and Sundowns, one wonders how much more our female footballers can achieve with the best support behind them. Banyana Ba Style celebrate at the Hollywoodbets Super League awards ceremonyCurrently, the Hollywoodbets Super League (HSL) is the highest in the country. Although it was introduced as the country's first Ladies' professional league, many supporters still see it as a semi-professional league at best. The players do not get full salaries as they still have other jobs outside of football while others study full-time. These are some of the challenges female footballers face, and one cannot help but believe that if the players had a more professional set-up, the country's football would leap to greater heights. In addition to the financial challenges facing our ladies' football, there is also the aspect of adequate development at grassroots level. Are there sufficient programmes that facilitate the development of young players at school and junior levels? Are there coaches adequately qualified to facilitate the development of these young players? These are questions that need to be addressed if we are to shape a successful way forward for football development. We have the Janine Van Wyk (JVW) school's league in Gauteng that can be considered as a platform to scout and develop young players. Also, in Gauteng, the Tuks Sports High-Performance Centre has produced a significant number of players. One must acknowledge the pending introduction of the Ubuntu Girls Academy in Cape Town – and those who follow football will know how good the development at Ubuntu Academy is. We certainly need more such structures to further improve the standard of ladies' football in the country.
Thembi Kgatlana(USA), Jermaine Seoposenwe (Mexico), Refiloe Jane (Italy), and Linda Motlhalo (Scotland) are just some of the players raising our flag high on international shores. This is evidence of the talent SA women possess and the heights they can reach when exposed to the necessary development and support that most players in our leagues have lacked. Players such as Hildah Magaia continue to shine in the South Korean top tier and inspire the next generation of Banyana stars as well as the players in the local SASOL League, and HSL put in the hard work as they now see that it is possible to take on the international football landscape. The desire to elevate women's football is increasingly evident. However, we cannot ignore the fact that sports nowadays are profit-based. It is a business, and like any other business, it needs to generate profit. This is where women's football is falling short – generating the necessary profit that would lead to professionalising the league. How do we address that? The fans and all those supporting women's leagues need to step up and attend games and watch games on TV in large numbers. The women's teams in Europe and America pull numbers that even our men's teams cannot match, and that is one of the factors that currently hinder the professionalisation of women's football in our country. We just do not have the numbers that will attract the sponsors and investors needed. We need clubs to provide clear marketing channels that will promote both the league and the clubs themselves. We need corporate investments to support the clubs and government assistance to aid this mission of professionalising football in the country.
If a municipality can pay hundreds and thousands of rands to support one men's football team, surely municipalities can afford to channel some of those funds into funding or enlisting funds for the women's teams that are thriving under their leadership. Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies are doing exceptionally well because of the status of the club as a whole – including the sponsorships that support even the women's team's endeavours. We are in a country that always promotes gender equality, and that is needed to shape powerful mindsets of young people through football. Our young prospective footballers need to see that there is space for them in the professional ranks, and they need to enter a space that will see them as the professionals they will become. We have already seen an unprecedented Netflix documentary on Banyana Ba Style; we urge all fans, corporate investors, government municipalities, and SAFA to rally behind the call to professionalise women's football in South Africa. Let us fill up stadiums, support our teams, and collectively attract the much-needed sponsorships for our Diski Queens. Boitumelo Rabale and Chuene MorifiBanyana Banyana and Banyana Ba Style are showing that they are worth every investment by conquering Africa. Now, our entire ladies' football system is in need of the resources, physical and online / media support, and investment to take SA Football to global recognition.