Greater push for women, girls in sport

Ruth Butaumocho recently in Johannesburg, South Africa—
Women’s football has been overshadowed by the men’s game for the last century, but could gain momentum once it gets a financial boost and recognition from stakeholders keen on developing female sport in this cutthroat world. It is barely 10am in the morning when hundreds of soccer fans from the impoverished suburb of Alexander trickle in the Altrek Stadium for a football tournament.

They know it will not be an ordinary match, and they cannot wait to be part of the soccer jamboree. As they scramble for seating space on the terraces, an entourage of 12 female football clubs emerges from the dug- out tunnel, to partake in singing the national anthem.

With a smile on their faces, the multitudes of girls join in the singing, before shouting a joyous chorus, signalling the beginning of the two-day tournament. And the joyous shout is expected to reverberate in all the Southern African countries when this inaugural women’s tournament goes regional next year, thanks to the concerted efforts of South African based Zimbabwean businessman, Mr Joseph Busha, in pushing for gender equality through sport.

“In line with our mission, vision and strategic intent, as a business and corporate citizen, we believe that by empowering women, we empower families, communities and nations.

The founder of JM Busha Investment Group, headquartered in South Africa with branches in six countries in the region, Mr Busha is a man who believes in the emancipation of women in the community through the unifying element – soccer – regarded by many as the beautiful game.

“I decided to start a regional tournament for 14 southern African countries after it dawned to me that despite women’s struggle in every community, very little was cascading towards them when it comes to empowerment and yet they continue to do more than men in their communities.

“Women have struggled in every economic and social activity and get very little respite. In line with our annual theme, “Celebrating the womb,” I decided to initiate the tournament and encourage entrance and promotion of women in soccer,” he said.

Through the birth of the JM Busha’s Women’s Tournament launched to the tune of $100 000 in South Africa recently, Mr Busha firmly believes he has set off on his mission to revive and develop women’s football, not just in Gauteng, but the whole of the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) region.

And his vision is not just to develop the skills of women on the football pitch, but to promote gender equality through sport. “The development of families, communities and nations and regional communities spanning various countries takes centre stage in my vision of an equitable society,” he said.

The tourney which will go on a regional whirlwind next year will focus on marginalised and impoverished communities that do not usually have access to resources, to ensure inclusivity.

“You can never achieve peace and equity among communities if you have upmarket suburbs that have everything and those in neighbouring, who have nothing and can hardly put a plate of food on the table.

“We should strive to encourage equitable communities and discourage elements of our societies such as disparities’ in socio-economic standards which tend to breed animosity that threatens the very fibre that glues communities together,” he said.

It is this desire of building oneness among the regional communities of the Sadc that Busha has decided to use the unifying power of sport, coupled with the power of mothers, who by their nature, manage to keep families as closely knit units.

Women’s football has been overshadowed by the men’s game for the last century, but could gain momentum once it gets a financial boost and recognition from stakeholders keen on developing female sport in this cutthroat world.

There is obviously still a huge gap between the male and female game due to resources and funding, but the female game is growing at a much quicker pace than many expected.

Ms Gloria Brown, chairperson of the South African Blubird Ladies Football Club-one of the clubs that took part in the inaugural tournament, said despite concerted efforts by several organisations and individuals like Mr Busha to promote female sport, the game still faces a lot of challenges.

“For women who want to venture into sport, especially football, you have to back up your talent with academic or professional papers, so that you can always have something to fall back on, because it is not paying for women.

“More often than not, women who are plying their trade as footballers, still struggle to earn a living through it and have to look for a job to supplement their “passion”, said Ms Brown who plied her trade as a footballer for a decade in Sweden and Norway in the 1990s.

Ms Brown bemoaned lack of sponsorship in women’s sport, particularly in football, further whittling down efforts and passion for ladies keen on pursuing sport as a profession.

She, however, said despite the obstacles that most women were facing in football, they were still eager to explore the territory.

“Passion is key in women’s football and is seen in every goal, celebration, win and loss.

“The main reason for that is most of these women have had to overcome difficult circumstances to become professional footballers and dedicate their time to a game which doesn’t have massive financial rewards,” she said.

What’s more, football was also shaping these girls’ future, diverting their attention from such socials like early child marriages; drug abuse and clubbing that were taking a toll on most youths.

Even the girls themselves believe that their future is in football

“We are finally going to turn pro in football and get recognition,” enthused Lerato, a striker with the South African Bluebird Ladies Football Club.

Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter could not have said it better when he said the future of football is feminine.

And that will only be achievable once women’s football goes beyond the parochial.

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