Women already have to deal with misogyny and discrimination in all sectors of society solely by virtue, well, of them being women. And for women in sports, it’s further amplified.
Transformation is the buzzword of the moment since sports minister Fikile Mbalula announced that no sports tournament bids could be launched by sport associations until the transformation quota went up. This was no doubt an important and much-needed decision, but one conversation around transformation seems to be sidelined – that of the sexism that exists in sports.
The South African women’s football team are set to compete at the 2016 Rio Olympics in August. Despite having qualified for the tournament, (which the men’s team have not, by the way) the Banyana Banyana team still earns less money than their male counterparts. A spokesperson for the South African Football Association (SAFA), Dominic Chimhavi, has acknowledged the wage discrepancies that exist and claims that the differences exist because of sponsorships that the team receives, as well as the match attendances. The men’s team receives more sponsorships and this is the reason why they receive higher wages. Their matches are also more popular among sports fans.
Yet, at the 2012 London Olympics, the women’s soccer match was one of the most watched games in South Africa.
Chimhavi also said that this is not a problem that just exists here in South Africa. That is certainly true because the USA women’s football team have been in the news after they took their football federation to court over a wage dispute. We’re still not buying the “it happens everywhere so it’s okay” excuse, though.
In South Africa, the wage discrepancy between men and women does not just exist in football, but in most other sports fields such as cricket and hockey. The most recent wage breakdown that exists for these sports is from a 2014 report that the Democratic Alliance received from the minister of sport in parliament. The report shows that most the women’s teams are regarded as “amateur” and, as such, do not earn wages nearly as high as the men’s teams.
Even though the report is over two years old, it most likely that nothing has changed with regards to the wage discrepancy that exists, which leads to the question: why is the issue of gender equality in sports not as important as that of transformation? It might be that the women’s team receives less sponsorship and airtime than their male counterparts, but should there not be steps put in place to increase the exposure and coverage that women’s sports receive?
Getting paid less is also not the only way in which women’s contributions in sport are not valued. In 2012, Portia Modise, a striker at the time for Banyana Banyana won the SA Sports Star of the Year award, beating many of her male counterparts. When she retired, she was one of the first South African footballers to score 100 goals for South Africa. This year, it was revealed that she had not been compensated for her achievements, but instead, she has been offered coaching jobs at SAFA which SAFA say are better than money. Modise has claimed that she hasn’t been paid because she is a woman.
And another thing. What’s with the way we treat one of our star athletes, Caster Semenya? The debacle surrounding Semenya started after her outstanding victory at the Berlin Athletics World Championship in 2009. The International Association of Athletes Federations investigated Semenya’s gender status because an Italian athlete had questioned it and said the win was unfair. Not even considering the racial undertones of this incident, and the discrimination Semenya faced in the athletic world, we just have to look at how the support around Semenya was framed in South Africa to see the sexism that female athletes have to face.
The African National Congress and the government’s support fell under a nationalist banner. There was an erasure of her identity as a woman and athlete in her own right and instead all the focus was on how the ANC perceived her. Semenya also won three gold medals at the June Africa Championships 2016 which took place in Durban. Still, there are reports that the athlete could be facing another scandal in the lead up to Rio, with some saying that Semenya is not competing on a level playing field.
It looks like some progress has been made with the SA women’s cricket team at least, since the team has been offered professional contracts. But it’s still clear that women’s teams are seen as needing to perform better in order to be given any attention. After the women’s cricket team played well in the 2014 T2O World Cup, six players from the team got signed by a sponsor. While that was encouraging at the time, it is also discouraging that it seems as if female sportswomen only get rewarded if they are able to prove that they can perform at the highest level, while the men’s teams never have to look for sponsors even if they do not always play at their best.
Even though spaces are being created for young girls and women to enter into the sporting world, what use is this when they will just face sexism, misogyny and unnecessary and invasive scrutiny if they aren’t seen as “woman enough” despite shining in their fields? It’s time to stop being so sexist on your sports fields, SA.