IT may have taken South Africa a long time to qualify for their first FIFA Women’s World Cup, but it hasn’t taken them long to reap the rewards. The buzz of Banyana Banyana reaching France 2019, and appearing at back-to-back Women’s Olympic Football Tournaments, has kick-started the changing of the landscape of women’s football in the 2010 FIFA World Cup tournament host nation.
Thembi Kgatlana, the reigning CAF African Women’s Footballer of the Year, hopes South Africa’s performances at France 2019, which begins for them against Spain on Saturday, will propel the push.
“I think the World Cup is the right platform to put Banyana on the map,” said the diminutive striker. “Seven months ago, yes people knew about Banyana, but we didn’t have the same support that we have now that we have qualified for the World Cup. The impact is so huge, people are starting to notice us.”
After South Africa qualified for France 2019, Kgatlana and team-mate Linda Motlhalo secured contracts with Beijing BG Phoenix in the Chinese Women’s Super League. Playing in China PR has afforded the duo a chance to face other big-name African players such as Nigeria internationals Chiwendu Ihezuo, Francisca Ordega and Onome Ebi.
Kgatlana hopes the prestigious platform of France 2019 will afford more of her team-mates the opportunity to pocket professional contracts.
“Teams overseas are starting to show interest in Banyana players,” said Kgatlana. “We have about eight players, if I am not mistaken, that are currently playing professional football.
“It shows you how much women’s football is growing in South Africa – for Banyana Banyana, for the national team. I think using the World Cup will be quite important for the team because then more players will be chosen to go and play professional football. That will open many doors for the country and for the girls to be able to give back to the country.”
Most players compete in university and the local Sasol League. However, the South African Football Association has made a bold promise that a professional women’s league will kick off in August, once the girls are back from France 2019.
“My hopes are too high for women’s football in South Africa,” said Kgatlana. “I may be young but there are people [who came] before me who were struggling and didn’t have equipment, who never knew we would be here today.
“I would take Janine [van Wyk] as an example. She’s still here, for people like her, it’s a milestone. But for those who played with Janine and are left back at home having hung their boots up, they are proud that the team has qualified for the World Cup, which is something they couldn’t do while they were still playing.
“Qualifying for the World Cup is not only important for the players and [coaching staff], but it’s important for the whole country and the people who will follow us.” – FIFA.com