YONGAMA ZIGEBE | Time to recognise inherent value of women's sport

03 November 2023 - 13:28
By Yongama Zigebe
Thembi Kgatlana of South Africa celebrates with teammates after scoring her team's third goal during the FIFA Women's World Cup.
Image: Lars Baron Thembi Kgatlana of South Africa celebrates with teammates after scoring her team's third goal during the FIFA Women's World Cup.

The Springboks’ triumphant victory at the 2023 Rugby World Cup not only brought a sense of elation to fans but also spotlighted the issue of inequity in sport. It particularly shone the light on sponsorship, under-investment in other sporting codes, and the glaring disparity in salaries between male and female athletes.

The Boks’ remarkable triumph was more than just a sports victory; it was a celebration of unity in a nation with a convoluted history of racial divides. The team’s diverse composition, a reflection of post-apartheid SA, demonstrated that on the rugby field, individuals from various backgrounds could come together and achieve greatness.

The team showcased that sports have the unique power to unite, transcend race and nationality, and foster a collective sense of pride and identity. However, this joyous occasion should serve as a poignant reminder of the stark contrast between the support and sponsorship available to rugby, particularly men’s rugby, and the relative neglect of other sporting codes, particularly women’s sports.

While the Springboks have major corporate sponsors, multi-million-dollar endorsements, and an extensive media presence, women’s football and netball often struggle to secure the financial backing necessary for elite competition. This reflects society’s values and the deep-rooted gender biases prevalent in sport. It perpetuates the notion that women’s sports are less important or less entertaining, despite the fact that female athletes consistently display remarkable skills and dedication often achieving results that rival those of their male counterparts.

It is high time we recognised the inherent value of women’s sports and invested accordingly. Moreover, gender inequity is glaringly evident when we examine the vast salary disparities between male and female athletes. This pay gap perpetuates systemic biases and societal norms that place men’s sports on a pedestal. Achieving true equity in sport necessitates a multipronged approach. Sponsors and media outlets should recognise the value of women’s sports.

It’s not merely about financial investments; it’s about challenging the prevailing attitudes that underestimate the importance and appeal of women’s sports. Furthermore, promoting equity in sports extends beyond rugby, cricket, and soccer.

Many other sporting codes often receive minimal support and development, which limits the growth and competitiveness of athletes in those disciplines. SA, like many other nations, possesses a wealth of untapped talent in various sports. By investing in these lesser-known sports, we can nurture talent, build healthier communities and cultivate national pride. The Springboks’ triumph in the 2023 Rugby World Cup ought to spark change in the sport industry as well as being a reason for joy.

Let’s make use of this occasion for national pride to address the disparities in sport sponsorship, pay, and career advancement chances. Only when we attain parity in all sports will we be able to genuinely honour our athletes’ accomplishments and recognise the inspiration and unity they provide our multicultural country.

■ Zigebe is UDM secretary-general