Author Topic: Who'll be the next Marta or Mia?  (Read 1616 times)

Offline David

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Who'll be the next Marta or Mia?
« on: April 20, 2010, 04:45:37 AM »
So who is the next Marta or Mia? Will our own Noko become the best in the world?

This is about soccer.

Having grown up a tomboy and a sports fan, I've learnt to love various codes and even shown an interest in learning the rules.

I will never forget being in a chock-a-block Sports Café at the Waterfront, with patrons anxiously awaiting the Liverpool-Manchester United clash.

Representatives of the Barmy Army were in town for the 2003 Cricket World Cup and an Englishman, whose complexion kept on changing from pink to red, demanded to know if I understood the game or if I was just checking out the players. My response: Both, actually.

Sarcastically, he asked me what an offside was. I didn't even give him a chance to take a sip of his drink and replied with venom. He shook my hand and joked that he had been trying to teach his wife the rules for years and she still didn't get it.

But is the widespread lack of knowledge about soccer, and relatively low interest in it among women, due to the inadequate exposure women's sport in general receives in South Africa?

It seems Banyana Banyana have slipped off the radar with their last notable achievements being victors in the South African Zone-6 Games in 2006 and runners-up a year later at the All Africa Games in Algeria.

The national side, backed by a top petroleum company, is ranked 55th in the world and recently competed in the Eight Nations Tournament in Cyprus.

Coach Fran Hilton-Smith was confident going in that her side would fare well, after being voted the most skilled team at last year's tournament but, unfortunately, the side lost both their games and returned home empty-handed.

But for the press release I happened to spot in our news wires, I wouldn't have been aware that the team was be in action, let alone participating in a four-nation tournament in the Netherlands in July, alongside the hosts, China and Switzerland.

The silver linings are our cricket, rugby sevens, hockey and netball teams, although the latter was dealt a huge blow when their main sponsor opted out in October.

Most of our national players are wives and mothers, having to juggle their families and jobs with their sports careers.

Yet overseas women's football is hugely successful, with countries like Brazil, the US and Germany the powerhouses and stars like four-time Women's World Player of the Year winner Marta, major success stories.

The US boasts a professional league as well as 20 million registered players under the age of 19. Retired American forward, Mia Hamm, is a legend, with the record of 158 international goals in her career. That's more than any other player, male or female, in the history of soccer.

On the field, things are looking up on the domestic front, though, with the first season of the R6.5 million Sasol League commencing last year, before culminating in the national championship play-offs, held in the Western Cape

The league - the equivalent of the men's PSL - caters for all nine provinces.

Provincial roadshows were also held with the aim of identifying new talent for possible selection to the national team.

Another addition, one notch lower down the food chain, is the Absa Women's League National Championships, launched last year, where 52 regions nationwide, some as big as 16-strong, compete.

So, there is potential, and some depth. But is it enough?

Our administration is good in parts, but we cannot compete with some countries who are very strong organisationally.

How can girls aspire to reach the heights of their male counterparts when it comes to sport?

Santos FC's Faizel Adams strongly believes that although the local press and supporters are major contributors to growth, more could be done to increase exposure and sponsorship.

Publishing fixtures and logs, promoting interest through community newspapers, having road shows and Safa instructing all clubs to have at least one women's team would be a good start.

Later this year, not only will a national women's championship for all the nine provinces be held, but the country is set to host and compete against seven teams in the African Women Championships in Gauteng in October.

Hopefully, more sponsors will come on board so that not only will more women understand the rules, but play the beautiful game at the highest level and be invited to trials with international teams.

Who knows, several could be on the path to becoming the next Marta or Mia, or our very own former and current national captains, Desiree Ellis and Kylie-Ann Louw. Or CAF Women's Footballer of the Year, Banyana striker Noko Matlou.