Banyana Banyana - the senior South African football
female team - have long been flag-bearers.
It is just a pity that due to long entrenched
prejudices, women still don't earn anywhere near what their male counterparts
make from playing football.
Last week's Rio Olympics draw once more brought forth
the fact that South Africa is among the elite - others being Germany, Sweden
and Colombia - that will have both their male and female teams representing
them in Brazil in August.
That both SA national teams drew hosts Brazil in their
Groups, was just an unlucky roll of the dice.
For the record,
the Under-23's are in the Group A with Brazil, Iraq and Denmark while
Banyana Banyana will grace Group E with Sweden and China.
On the surface, Banyana Banyana Group seems to be the toughest
as Sweden and China are giants in women football while the Under-23's task seems
a bit easier if they can overcome Iraq and Denmark.
However, there are no guarantees in global
However, the Under-23's coach Owen da Gama has pointed
out that they had to eliminate Senegal to make it to Brazil as one of
two African representatives.
Banyana Banyana on the other hand, have been growing
gradually and actually seem closer to becoming African champions in the not so
Their mentor, Vera Pauw, has already said that her
ladies will use the Olympic Games as part of their preparations for the Africa
Women Cup of Nations Championships that will be played in Cameroon in November.
They easily qualified for this event, knocking out
Botswana in the process.
The ladies have been so close to becoming African champs
on several occasions that it hurts. In many instances they have been blocked by
Nigeria who seem to have become their nemesis.
They have lost in the final four times - 1995, 2000,
2008 and 2012.
Their worst performances were in 1998 and 2004 when
they were eliminated at the Group stages of the tournament. They came fourth in
2014 while in 2006 and 2010, they finished third.
With such results, it should only be a matter of time
before they annex the title.
So having both teams at the Olympics, is a huge step
for South African football. It is a giant stepping stone, from which the
country can build a culture of not only qualifying for big tournaments, but
The experience of participating in such tournaments
will go a long way in nurturing young South African players for the global
And instead of doomsayers keeping on reminding the
Under-23 team that they will face a Brazilian side with a red-hot Neymar, Da Gama
and company must encourage the youngsters by telling them that a Benni
McCarthy-led South Africa beat a Brazilian side that boasted Ronaldinho at the
2000 Games in Sydney.
So, anything is possible.
Here is wishing our two teams all of the best at the
Rio Olympic Games. S’Busiso Mseleku is regarded as one of Africa's leading
sports journalists and an authority on football. He has received some of
the biggest awards in a career spanning well over 20 years. He is
currently City Press Sports Editor.
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