Banyana's sendoff turns into chaos after bonus row

Tempers flare as World Cup squad demand confirmation of incentives

Nthabiseng Mtambo of South Africa during the Women's International Friendly match between South Africa and Botswana at Tsakane Stadium on July 02, 2023 in Brakpan, South Africa.
Nthabiseng Mtambo of South Africa during the Women's International Friendly match between South Africa and Botswana at Tsakane Stadium on July 02, 2023 in Brakpan, South Africa.
Image: Lee Warren/Gallo Images

In a little over 20 days, Banyana Banyana will take the field for their opening Fifa Women’s World Cup fixture against Sweden but their final home preparatory fixture descended into unprecedented chaos yesterday.

Billed as a “sendoff” fixture before they leave for Australia and New Zealand this week, where the World Cup kicks off officially on July 20, a hastily-assembled second string Banyana side faced Botswana at a packed Tsakane stadium, while the real team stood their ground after a bonus row erupted in the camp on Saturday.

It has emerged that Banyana players have been seeking guarantees from Safa that they would each get at least R400,000 for partaking in the event and, having reached a deadlock, they were yesterday assisted by the leadership of the SA Football Players’ Union (Safpu) to take the association head on.

Two weeks ago, world governing body Fifa announced a $30,000 (R570,000) per player incentive for World Cup-bound players, and Banyana sought a written assurance that they would get the money.

A dramatic day began with Safa apparently telling the players they could leave camp over the disagreement, while frantic phone calls were being made to individual players – many of whom played in the Sasol women’s league a day before – to come rescue the friendly against Botswana.

Unsurprisingly, the ill-prepared team made up of 13 players lost 0-5. Such was the chaos that even coach Desiree Ellis joined when the team had already arrived at Tsakane stadium, and was not her usual self on the bench, as clearly she couldn’t coach players she hardly knew.

At the team hotel, Safpu led by its president Thulaganyo Gaoshubelwe, had a talk with the team members but denied they had refused to face Botswana. Instead he blamed Safa for not acceding to the players’ demands.

“There was police escort here at 12.30pm to accompany the team [to the stadium],” Gaoshubelwe told journalists who assembled at the team hotel, emphasising the team were ready to honour the game but were told their services for yesterday’s match were no longer needed.

“There have been discussions [over bonuses] since [last] Tuesday. Fifa gives [Safa] an amount but it doesn’t go to the team, it goes to the association, which in turn gives the women only allowances. We have advised Banyana that they need to get what’s theirs,” Gaoshubelwe said.

The players then travelled to the match venue along with the Safpu leaders, but were initially denied entry into the stadium by Safa officials, who demanded accreditation.

“Entry to this stadium is free,” Safpu official Nhlanhla Shabalala could be heard telling Safa delegation led by NEC member Mzwandile Maforvane in a heated argument.

Banyana were eventually allowed to enter the stadium amid fears they would disrupt proceedings, but this didn’t happen as they watched the final moments of the second half.

Jubilant fans at the Ekurhuleni venue were largely oblivious to the drama, coming in numbers as they snapped up match tickets which had been made freely available.

Mpumelelo Mjoli, a Banyana supporter, said he saw on social media that the team were planning to boycott but he did not believe it and made the trip to Tsakane stadium.

“I’m very disappointed... if they (the first team) are not coming. You can see there are a lot of supporters here, but they are not here,” he said.

“They take us for granted because we came here to support Banyana Banyana and if other players, whom we don’t know, are the ones who are playing, that’s not right.”

Other fans also showed their frustrations by leaving the venue as they didn’t want to watch players they are not familiar with.

Banyana face Sweden on July 23 before taking on Argentina (July 28) and Italy on August 2 in Group G of the World Cup.

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