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Open letter to South Africa’s students‚ universities and government‚ represented by Minister in the .

Women's role in transforming SA sport is largely forgotten

By unknown | Aug 10, 2007 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Cheryl Roberts

Cheryl Roberts

With South Africa caught up in just everything that involves the hosting of the 2010 Football World Cup Finals and men's world cup sports events, it has become very easy to forget the contributions of those in non-racial, anti-apartheid sport who got us into the era of our non-racial, democratic sports dispensation.

While some tributes have taken place around South Africa for those who reached the top of the sports pyramid under harsh apartheid conditions, they have been largely focused on the prowess of sportsmen.

The women pioneers of non-racial sport, who contributed immensely to the opposition of apartheid sport, have not appeared on the radar of tributes, honour and recognition.

These pioneers who participated in all levels of sport should be applauded and acknowledged for their contribution in travelling a very difficult path that would eventually open more opportunities for girls and women in sport.

It was a committed journey which saw the sportswomen give their heart and soul, with no financial gain or assistance and no material rewards, to the consolidation of non-racial sport and the creation of opportunities for disadvantaged, oppressed girls and women and men.

For every woman who participated in some level of sport, whether as a spectator, tea maker, club player, wife or girlfriend, many more girls and women were attracted to sport because of the other women who were already there.

While many more opportunities have been created for millions of girls and women to participate in sport today because of our non-racial, democratic South Africa, the thousands who participated in non-racial, anti-apartheid sport have not been accorded the recognition and honour which they deserve and which is justifiably owed to them in lieu of their contribution to a free, non-racial, democratic South African society.

Black women played league tennis in Langa in the 1940s, coloured women played basketball, table tennis, tennis, badminton, hockey and softball from the 1940s.

Coloured and black women have been involved in rugby from the turn of the 20th century. Yet, the outstanding talents of South Africa's elite black sportswomen, as well as the dedication of women officials, coaches and volunteers in sport, has gone unnoticed most of the time.

If most South Africans did not have adequate sports amenities and facilities, government funding or sponsorship from business, imagine what meagre and little resources were hanging around for black girls and women?

Yet they organised and developed sport in the disadvantaged, oppressed and severely deprived communities. Talented sportswomen emerged from these communities but they received very little financial or infrastructural support.

The women who chose non-racial sport put principles above money and chose to advance a non-racial, democratic society where all South Africans are one nation and are treated equally.

Blacks got very few facilities at school and in communities under the apartheid regime but we played non-racial sport and contributed to the creation of our non-racial, democratic society. Millions of people fought for non-racial sport and for the liberation of South Africa. Today, when we enjoy international sport we must not forget those who made it possible for us to achieve international legitimacy and play international sport.

Women who were involved in sport from way back in the 1940s are still involved in sport today, still giving their time to sport and still loving it. South Africa has gone on to record international victories in sport and our prowess has surfaced with the eradication of apartheid.

Elite and professional sports stars abound in all sports and South Africa derives much joy and pride from international sport. And through all of this our women are still involved in sport, still organising and still loving sport but never forgetting where we came from and what got us to where we are today.

Millions of girls and women enjoy sport, with the elite going on to participate internationally. We must not forget those who fought apartheid in sport and made it possible for the creation of a new sports era.

Recognition and honour should be bestowed upon our sportswomen and women in sport who chose to play and support non-racial, anti- apartheid sport and who struggled because of all the obstacles they encountered.

But demonstrate their talent they surely did! The non-racial sportswomen of the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s contributed greatly to the creation of non-racial sports structures and to the eradication of apartheid.

And we should honour and pay tribute to our anti-apartheid sports struggle and remember the sacrifices and principles of our leaders, officials, heroines and heroes who chose a difficult journey and sacrificed a lifetime for an equitable, non-racial sports dispensation in South Africa.

We should not allow our struggle stalwarts to be easily erased or omitted from celebration and commemorations. We should also create much more space and engage those who have the financial and media power about the development of women in all levels of sport.

We must also take our opportunities to applaud our girls and women in sport because the focus is all on the men with the sportswomen struggling for financial assistance, spectator support, media recognition and overall national support.

lCheryl Roberts is the publisher of publication SA SportsWoman


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