South Africa: A call to girls – join a sport team!

Date: August 28, 2012
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Johannesburg, 28 August: Sportswomen and in particular female teams had an overwhelming presence at the just ended 2012 London Olympics. All eyes are on the Paralympic Games which start on Wednesday, 29 August and after 9 September, on Brazil which will host the 2016 Olympics. Yet, 2012 will be remembered as the year in which women competed in all sports. The American team actually had more female than male athletes! However, seeing South African women’s teams participate in hockey, netball, handball and soccer brought a sense of pride and hope for sportswomen in the country.

As a young female, I have been inspired to hit the gym at the least, or change my professional direction and join a gymnastics or soccer team on more competitive-inspired days. However, I noticed huge gaps in various other sports that were missing our National Olympic Team’s participation, and wondered why.

Also, while our Olympic team showed the talent and drive that women have for sports, it’s still a well-known fact that girls tend to be less involved in sport than boys, especially at older ages. Is there a lack of interest in girls to participate? Or is it lack of opportunities and support?

A powerful message is delivered in a video found on YouTube titled ‘Keep her in the game’ that addresses the issue that girls from the age of 14 are twice as likely to leave sport as opposed to their male counterparts. This video in particular covers the fact that pressure to look and behave a certain way and conform to be a particular type of girl, pushes teen girls into glamour and away from the sporting environment.

There is also the stereotype that girls in sport are either lesbian or un-cool. This perception has shifted, but the core idea stands firm in many youth minds. When so much action has been taken to break the chains of the suppression of women, we see today that issues of image have overtaken the mind of so many youths who could potentially be great sports personalities.

When some sports are available for girls in and around communities, they are often stopped after a short time due to lack of devoted involvement from the girls. There is an initial interest that is soon lost and the spark sizzles, leaving the funded project with closed doors. Then we see the opposite is more often than not also true, many girls have interest in a particular sport but it is not offered by their school and private tuition is all too expensive for the average South African. Perhaps it is a matter of finding out what physical activities girls are really interested in?

The South African Transformation Charter states that, “By broadening the base of its involvement in rural and urban communities sport will be positioning to influence the existing image and perceptions about sport on a wider basis within the broader South African society. In the process it will grow its support base.”

This means our government wants to develop our interest and involvement in sport as a nation. Individuals who want to fill the gaps are encouraged to send through proposals. It is in the people’s hands to work along-side government and established organisations already making the changes to ensure sustainable developments occur in our country’s sport programmes.

Action has been taken to ensure the support of girls-sport in institutions, such as instances where government implemented the blocking of boys teams into competitions until their girls teams entered too. Having spoken to girls who have stayed committed to sport and participate in soccer teams, the response is positive. They enjoy playing competitively and the support is mutual, “the boys and girls travel together and watch one-another’s games” one player notes.

This is a far cry from previous years where female team sports were shunned. But we need to know how to increase the involvement of girls in numerous team sports the world stage offers.

On the other hand, even though the Sport and Recreation Strategic Plan offers insight into the support promised to schools and rural area’s extra-mural activities, the reality is that the budget can’t always meet the community’s needs.

There are non-governmental initiatives focusing on improving the quality of sport. Joining an established initiative, whatever sport you wish to delve into, can also offer one a platform to build the relationships they will need to convince the executives on expansion into new sports.

The benefits of being involved in team sports are plenty. Apart from the obvious health benefits, which considering South Africa has been dubbed “the third fattest country in the world”, sport is much needed. There are social skills learned from interacting with team-mates. The learning of teamwork is an employable skill.

Change is possible but it’s in the hands of South Africans, especially girls and women, to make things happen and use the support available. There is no reason for South Africa not to enter the 2016 Olympics in Brazil with a much larger Olympic team than we saw in August, with many of the team members being female.

Tamara Moore works for Live Magazine in Cape Town. 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.


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