As 2024 Looms – What Lessons can be Learnt from 2023 The Year of Women’s Sport?

Fans during day 7 of the Netball World Cup 2023 at Cape Town International Convention Centre on August 03, 2023 in Cape Town, South Africa. Photo: Grant Pitcher/Gallo Images/Netball World Cup 2023

It was quite prophetic for gsport to announce 2023 as the Year of Women’s Sport a year ago, turning out to be the best year for women’s sport across many sporting codes, on- and off the pitch, as it did.

From South Africa successfully hosting World Cups, stadiums selling out for women’s games, and athletes bossing it and playing their part in advancing women’s sport, 2023 is a year for the history books. 

As women in the sporting fraternity, we need to ask ourselves what lessons we can take from this year, and how we can make 2024 even better. gsport Senior Writer Lonwabo Nkohla takes a look at the key lessons from the “Year of Women’s Sport” that can lay a foundation for elevation, growth and advancement in 2024.

South Africa is a Premium Destination for Hosting Major Tournaments

When 2023 started, South Africa hosted thee major tournaments in quick succession, it all started with the inaugural U19 Women’s World Cup in January of 2023 in Potchefstroom and Benoni, the Women’s FIH Indoor Hockey World Cup followed in Pretoria’s Heartfelt Arena in February, and then the ICC T20 Women’s World Cup, where the final was sold out at Newlands Stadium.

All these showpieces demonstrated that the appetite for women’s sport is there. What followed next was the Table Tennis Championships in Durban, a tournament that returned to Africa for the first time since 1939.

A few months later Cape Town became a hive of activity when the 2023 Netball World Cup descended upon the continent for the first time. Overall, while we can safely conclude that South Africa has the resources but I think we can market our events just a little better. We can confidently, without any doubt believe that people will come and support. 

The Netball World Cup had a few hiccups regarding tickets and attendance but the event was deemed a success and with it winning multiple awards, how much better would it have been if the two courts at Cape Town International Convention Centre were sold out for most of the games? 

As proud as we are of the Proteas Women selling out Newlands Stadium after reaching their maiden final, we can generally push a little harder and make the loudest noise ahead of these global extravaganzas that come to our shores. 

Wearing our supporter’s jerseys, for example, should not be reserved for men’s teams only, especially if it’s a tournament at home. Bussing in school kids and giving away tickets should be common practice. Instead of looking at financial gains, how about we balance that with putting bums on seats through giveaways? We now know that we won’t be starting from scratch. 

Future of South Africa’s Women’s Cricket is Bright

The inaugural ICC U19 T20 Women’s World Cup kick-started the Year of Women’s Sport. Girls cricket is growing at a rapid rate in the country, and one thing’s for sure, the quality of our players is world class. The way the youngsters represented the country is estimable, losing only one match to eventual winners India, and winning the hearts of many South Africans.  

Some notable highlights: Simone Lourens had an exceptional innings against India, smashing the second half century of the tournament. Madison Landsman scored the tournament’s first ever hat-trick against Scotland leading the hosts to their first victory of the world cup. 

Karabo Meso is another future Proteas Women player. The right-hand batter / wicketkeeper was featured in the team of the tournament for the inaugural showpiece. With Cricket South Africa having professionalised the women’s game, this will bode well for these youngsters that have found homes in teams domestically, such as Landsman who has since joined the DP World Lions.

Investment is Key

2023 was also a “Kgothatso Montjane Year”. KG won two Grand Slam titles in 2023 alongside her Japanese partner Yui Kamiji: The French Open, and the US Open. Her victories this year come at the back of her partnering with Optimize Agency in 2019. The fruits of that partnership, that has been at work, rebranding the wheelchair tennis ace, started to show as soon as the two giants came together. However, in 2023, this is the year where it all drastically translated on the courts too. The two slams cemented KG as South Africa’s leading sport star. 

SASOL is a brand that has been a long-time sponsor of the senior national women’s team. For over a decade, the energy giant has backed Banyana Banyana. SASOL’s sponsored Banyana well before they were crowned WAFCON champions and well before they created another colossal piece of history, making the round of 16 for the first time in the history of South African football. 

The same can be said about SPAR and Telkom. The retail and telecommunication giants have walked side-by-side with Netball SA and one can wonder how possible the NWC2023 would’ve been without their support. 

Momentum has supported women’s cricket to allow for our incredible talented players to focus on their skills and represent their country and not juggle a 9-5 while also playing. 

That said, there’s an enormous room for more corporates to support teams and athletes so that we start seeing more and more Grand Slam winning athletes and for the future Banyana to go beyond the round of 16 and the Proteas to go one up and win an ICC World Cup. 

It’s Time to Professionalise 

Cricket South Africa swiftly harnessed the energy of its two world cups successfully hosted this year, and heeded the call to professionalise the women’s game. On 22 August this year, the cricket governing body announced the formation of a professional women’s league. It is the first of its kind, across sporting codes, in the country. A massive milestone in a bid to narrow the gap between the men’s and the women’s game. 

As per call at the breakfast hosted by the Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture Zizi Kodwa, it’s time for SAFA and NSA to follow suit. While NSA has made some strides awarding 24 professional contracts, it’s time to take the Telkom Netball League to the next level, professionalise the league. 

With these developments and greater investment, Banyana can match some of the teams they meet at the World Cup. 

Let’s put it into perspective, the Desiree Ellis led side was able to reach the round of 16 coming from a country that has a league that’s three years old, and is not professional. How much of a force can the senior women’s team be if they focus solely on playing? 

To be able to match dominant New Zealand, England and Australia in Netball we need a league that competes with the likes of the ANZ Premiership, Netball Super League and Suncorp Super Netball. 

In closing, as we look ahead to 2024, the wish is that everyone does their bit to build on the foundations laid in 2023. 

The future of women’s sport is exciting, however, we all still need to put in the work. If we do, we gain future KG Montjane’s, the work started by the likes of Bongi Msomi and Marizanne Kapp will lead to future stars that will one day win the Netball and Cricket World Cup and give us, South Africa, the sport-mad nation that we are, a fighting chance when we go to compete in stages around the world.  

Photo CaptionMain Photo Caption: Fans during day 7 of the Netball World Cup 2023 at Cape Town International Convention Centre on August 03, 2023 in Cape Town, South Africa. Photo: Grant Pitcher/Gallo Images/Netball World Cup 2023

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