Africa:Girls stepping up on the basketball court

Date: July 30, 2012
  • SHARE:

Johannesburg, 30 July – Picture a long-limbed young athlete, crossing a basketball court in a few easy strides before leaping up to release a perfectly arced ball to swish neatly into a hoop over three metres off the ground, scoring the winning basket! As the final buzzer sounds, the crowd cheers, teammates hoist the celebrated player high onto their shoulders, and there are high fives all around. Drenched in sweat from a hard fought game, the players pat each other on the back, on a match well played.

The typical image that comes to mind for most people is a group of boys. Yet girls and women are staking their place in the world of African basketball, playing for the love of the sport, but smashing some gender stereotypes along the way. When the Olympic basketball series kicked off over the weekend, the Angolan women’s team is Africa’s sole representative. They may be underdogs going in, losing against Turkey in their opening match and facing off against the powerhouse team from the United States next, but they carry hoop dreams of a continent full of girl players.

As in many sports, female basketball has less resources, fewer leagues and competitive opportunities, and more sporadic media coverage, than the male equivalent. A sport often linked with hip-hop culture, characterised by baggy uniforms, and of course towering height and the ability for aggressive blocks, some may not see basketball as a “typical” sport for girls. Others, however, will strongly disagree.

“It’s a myth, people used to think that girls couldn’t play sports like basketball, cricket, or rugby,” says 21-year old Zimbabwean guard or power forward Dorcas Marondera, “but not anymore.”

Marondera started playing seven years ago after being spotted by a coach while playing netball. Her height made her an ideal prospect for basketball. She rapidly rose through the ranks, playing for the Zimbabwean under 16 and under 18 national teams.

Like most female basketball players, height hasn’t always been an advantage. She recalls people teasing her, calling her names like giraffe. She didn’t let it bother her much, after all she’s in good company. Media has quoted almost every female professional basketball player at one time or the other, telling stories of childhood or teenage teasing about their build, until they came into their own on the court.

Society often discourages girls and women in sport, yet research and experience point to the positive influence that sport has in girls’ lives. The Beijing Platform for Action also speaks up on the issue, calling for accessible recreational and sport facilities. Players themselves echo the importance of this.

“Girls who are interested to play must come out and try, they must not think twice,” advises Marondera. “Basketball changes lives. It changed me. So many girls are getting into negative things such as sugar daddies and unwanted pregnancies. With basketball, or any sport, you must focus, and this keeps girls out of trouble.”

More than just being about competition and fitness, sport opens opportunities in education, and employment, not just as athletes, but also as coaches, officials, and administrators. Marondera is currently studying marketing at Vaal University of Technology in South Africa, courtesy of a sports scholarship. Cutting girls off from sports, also cuts them off from such opportunities.

According to Nompumelelo Ramatsoga, a shooting guard who juggles being a student with playing for the University of Pretoria, the Raptors and Limpopo Provincial team, there has been a decline in recent years in local opportunities for basketball players in general, and girls in particular. The result is lost prospects for players to capitalise on their talent. Limited by the lack of prospects for girls, Ramatsoga herself started and coaches a boys’ team.

“Girls aren’t encouraged to play, but there is also little exposure. The lack of club options means that even those that play in high school sometimes don’t continue,” observes Ramatsoga. “They get lost in the system in high school, or between high school and University.”

As a coach working with youth, Ramatsoga notes that there is a need for more basketball at the grassroots, with strong structures at the district leading into provincial levels. She also points out that sport is a direct, though not easy, path to build young people’s confidence, self-esteem, and self-discipline.

“I remember a quote, ‘Training starts when the coach leaves.’ Basketball is one of those sports that you have to put a lot of work into, as an individual,” she said. Ramatsoga also pointed out sport’s educational opportunities, as with Dorcas Marondera. “That’s something I also want to encourage,” she says, “That young people can get an education through sport.”

Whether playing for fitness and fun, or competitively, it’s obvious that sport has many benefits. While not every girl will end up getting a scholarship, or becoming a professional player, it’s about encouraging each person to pursue their passion and develop their unique talents, regardless of any traditionally held stereotypes. After all, who knows where the next Olympians will come from?

Deborah Walter is the director of CMFD Productions. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service, special series on gender, sport and the 2012 London Olympics, bringing you fresh views on everyday news.


Comment on Africa:Girls stepping up on the basketball court

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *