Women finding a home in the sports field

Date: January 1, 1970
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South Africa’s hero Natalie du Toit is once again delighting sports fans and inspiring the country, not only winning five gold medals for the second consecutive Paralympics, but also being named winner of the Whang Youn Dai Achievement Award, recognising both her success in the swimming pool and her community involvement. Du Toit is a true role model for all of Southern Africa, a region that, while it emphatically encourages able-bodied young men in sport, rarely has the same enthusiasm for women or the disabled.

With the final fanfare of the 2008 Beijing Olympics and Paralympics soon drawing to a close, South Africa and the region will now be turning its attention wholeheartedly to the next major global sporting event – the 2010 FIFA World Cup. While celebrating the Paralympics success, South Africa is also grappling with questions of what went wrong in an Olympics that yielded just one medal. As conversations get going about developing athletes and preparing for the 2010 Cup, the gender divide in the sporting arena is a perspective that needs some attention.
Sports, often thought of as a leisure activity, is in fact big business. Sports related employment – competitors, coaches, managers, sport administrators, trainers, game officials, physical education teachers, sports therapists, journalists and editors – makes up a significant amount of waged employment.
In addition, along with economic opportunities supplying sporting products, such as clothing and equipment, sporting events also generate consumption of food, contribute to domestic and international tourism and result in demand for accommodation and many other associated goods and services.
Despite moves for gender equality in the region, the gender division of labour in the sports industry remains more pronounced than in just about any other sector. Women are largely missing from the picture. Sports in Southern Africa is still mostly considered a male domain, and girls not generally encouraged to participate, especially not as a career, and certainly not in what are considered male sports.
These are some of the points to ponder set out in Business Unusual, a book published by Gender Links exploring, along with gender and sport, topics such as the world of work and enterprise, development, globalisation and trade, budgeting and governance.
However, despite any challenges, across Southern Africa, women such as Swazi Premier Soccer League CEO Lombuso Taongai are waking up to the fact that sports is a business that they too can claim a take in, taking on roles that until very recently were almost unheard of.
“The only challenge I have found is that I had to learn a bit more about soccer to better understand my working environment,” says Taongai. “But the fact that I am a woman in a top soccer position shows that the attitude of society is slowly changing and becoming more open to gender balance, giving women opportunities to showcase their capabilities,” she says.
In 1999 Botswana’s Nono Kgafela became the world’s first woman boxing referee and in 1995, Glenda Mokokwe was Botswana’s first female football referee. Both recall that their chosen profession is not always easy, because of gender discrimination.
 “The public supports the idea of football being a man’s field,” she said. “I remember when I was insulted and cursed by the public in Mochudi during a football match just because I was a woman referee.”
African women athletes like Zambian boxer Esther Phiri and Mozambican Olympic runner Maria de Lurdes Mutola show that women can compete at the global level, and at the same time be a role models for girls on the continent. In the case of Mutola, her athletic prowess mirrors a savvy sense of social entrepreneurship. In 2001, Mutola launched the Lurdes Mutola Foundation, which had contributed significantly to sports and education in her home country of Mozambique, one of the poorest nations in the world.
“The Foundation focuses on these areas, because I know that without an education I would not be where I am today.  Sports without education does not work, and I support sports because it creates healthy children physically and mentally,” says Mutola.
Although there is no shortage of intriguing stories of women in athletics, the media tends to marginalise women’s sport. Women are virtually missing from the sports pages. Research shows that women constitute just 5% of the voices found in sports reporting. Considering the significant percentage of sports content in mainstream and tabloid newspapers, (17% and 21% respectively), this significant gap affects the socialisation of girls and women into sport.
While the sports industry as a whole forms an important part of the economy, the upcoming 2010 mega-event offers the most significant opportunities, on and off the field. South Africa (and the region) expects three million foreign tourists, boosting opportunities in accommodation, health services, travel services, short-term insurance, event management, logistics, arts, crafts and entertainment.
The possible opportunities extend beyond borders. In the tourism sector alone, neighbouring Mozambique expects to host around 100 000 foreign tourists during the World Cup, raking in some US$500 million in revenue. South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Mozambique have signed an agreement to share the tourism spin-offs of "border-free" tourism packages.
In some respects, the organisers recognise the importance of such an event for small and medium enterprises, and the distinctive local context. For example, FIFA and MATCH-AG, the company designated to organise accommodation for 2010, will, for the first time, contract non-hotel accommodation such as national park accommodation, bed and breakfasts, lodges and guesthouses. This presents a unique opportunity for the huge numbers of smaller accommodation establishments, many of which are run by women.  
According to the SA2010 website, the Organising Committee also agreed to procure 30% of the needed products and services from small businesses and black economic empowerment (BEE) companies. At least 70% of the procurement allocated to BEE companies and small businesses is supposed to be to smaller black enterprises – especially to co-operatives with large numbers of female members, and small businesses of which women are key stakeholders.
As we turn our attention wholeheartedly to the World Cup, it is important that such commitments do not get lost in the midst of concerns around stadium preparedness and the state of national athletics.
Although the World Cup itself is of course a series between male participants, the region’s interest in gender equality can still play a role.  Ensuring that our female soccer players and athletes also see the inspiration of the moment, and that women entrepreneurs benefit from the huge potential opportunities, will mean that both men and women can celebrate and partake in this important event.
Keeping gender in the conversation is part of the potential success for both the 2010 event, and as we consider the state of sports development in the country in general. As sportswomen like Natalie du Toit show, given encouragement and opportunity, sports too are an area where girls and young women can excel, despite the challenges that society presents.
Deborah Walter is the editor of the GL Opinion and Commentary Service. This article, based on excerpts from book Business Unusual, is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.

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