Looking back twenty five years on from the dawn of democracy in South Africa, it’s become almost glib to reel off the iconic list of proud sporting moments that have drawn the world’s attention; 1995, 2010, the Comrades Marathon.
Our cabinets are overflowing with trophies won by our athletes on sports fields at home and globally, where our nation’s best have given their all to earn our pride, in spite of the challenges faced.
With this strong platform of excellence set, is it not time to address a burning issue of inequality that continues to divide?
The stark reality is that women’s sport has been left to fend for itself while the country has gone about patiently building a unified sporting identity moulded around mainstream sport.
But now, after many years of countless efforts to raise the profile of women’s sport in South Africa, real progress is being seen at various levels.
People often compare women’s sport to men’s sport, saying it will never rise to the same level. But unless there is a serious system put in place for women’s sport, we can’t really be serious about closing the gap.
‘We refuse to accept inequality in sport!’
We can no longer be content to dwell sentimentally on the rainbow nation’s proud achievements. These successes demand that we use their momentum to propel women’s sport to reach even greater heights.
A few of the more progressive federations have seen the winds of change, and have accelerated programmes to identify and develop talent, with the Sunshine Ladies Tour, Cricket South Africa and Rugby SA leading the way in signing top athletes on professional contracts.
But this is only the start of bringing about real change.
Cherry-picking talented athletes and fast-tracking them into the international arena is not a sustainable development plan. We have to also take care of the base.
If we expect to thrive at the top, grassroots development must be prioritised.
A dedicated pipeline for women’s sport development – backed up by a motivated commercial program – will provide a powerful foundation from which to move forward.
These real conversations are only possible because of all the hard work a unified South Africa has put in over the last quarter of a century to ensure that marginalised communities have a voice.
Forging a new sporting identity since unification in 1991 is being made easier every time South Africa win, on the field, as a host nation, in the boardroom, in terms of diversity and equality.
Stand out sporting moments have served to gel the rainbow nation together, and enable us to celebrate a Proudly South African identity built on key successes on the sporting fields over the years.
The country has amply demonstrated its worth as a world-class sporting destination since the historic 1995 Rugby World Cup and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
The time has come for South African sport to start working on the capstone of these past 25 years of foundational work, to ensure that commercially sporting codes and their talented stars start benefitting from the years of toil.