August 3 – When South Africa’s women footballers kick off the Rio Olympics later today, it will represent another crucial step in the long struggle for recognition back home.
Nicknamed Banyana Banyana, the South Africans play Sweden in the first event of the Games, two days before Friday’s opening ceremony.
“It’s not something that brings in any income, it doesn’t attract big sponsors, it’s a costly exercise and, especially in Africa to travel to play international matches is outrageously expensive,” Fran Hilton Smith, head of women’s football at the South African Football Association, told Reuters.
“It’s difficult for African women’s teams to compete. It really, really is.”
Twenty years ago, when the team was in its infancy, they were forced to use kit the men had cast off, she said.
“We had no support at all. They used to give us shirts with the men’s player’s names on the back and hand-me-down track suits.”
Entrenched attitudes during the apartheid era were still taking time to change, she said.
“It’s still tough. Parents did not want girls to play football because there was no future in the game. But now they have the chance to get scholarships to university and after these Games I’m sure a lot of this team are going to be snapped up by professional teams in Europe and the US.”
Although South Africa have yet to qualify for a Women’s World Cup, competing at the London Olympics four years ago boosted interest.
“Our women’s football has grown in leaps and bounds because of the profile created by the last Olympics. We are absolutely convinced Rio will do the same.”
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