Lwandile Simelane is the youngest board member of the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) and the Head of the organisation’s Women’s Commission.
Simelane hopes that in five years’ time, women’s sport will be fully commercialised, and be a safe space for women to express their abilities on all levels.
Simelane, who was one of 50 leading women in sport recognised by the Sports Ministry in 2014, has been breaking down barriers since the beginning of her career in sports administration, travelling the world to share her knowledge and represent South Africa at the biggest sporting conferences.
Sport is in Simelane’s blood. She represented her province as a hockey player before breaking into sports administration, where she has steadily built up an impressive portfolio of experience, leading her to her position at SASCOC.
Her focus is to rework the direction of the SASCOC Women’s Commission. She acknowledges the gap that exists in addressing issues around gender in sport, and hopes to have a hand in changing the game.
Simelane chats to Celine Abrahams about South African sport, her biggest career highlight and her dream for South African women’s sport.
Lwandile, how are you keeping it together during the COVID-19 lockdown?
I think we all under immense stress and pressure during these trying times as a nation. But there is lots of reading, exercising and Netflix going on to try and pass by time. We all need to stay home and beat this thing.
How has work changed for you during this time?
Has not changed too much my full-time job is in agriculture and there’s still work being done in that sector. Just an increase in meetings on various digital platforms.
You have been a sports administrator for many years, with extensive time spent with hockey, what have you enjoyed about your role and time spent shaping SA sport over the years?
I grew up in sport, whether it was playing as a youngster or leadership I have just been in absolute love with it. I have enjoyed being able to see how the transitions in times have affected changes in sport. I have often been the youngest person at some of the tables I have sat in and providing fresh ideas and new ways of thinking is extremely exciting.
Where does your passion for sport come from?
I had always been into sport. I played almost all the sports in primary school and when I got to high school the late Pat Deacon got me obsessed with the game of hockey. Once the bug bit me I just got into the notion that sport is life.
Tell us about your journey in sport so far.
Well I played hockey at school and represented my province. I wanted to play in varsity, but I think I got into student politics and academics more than playing sport. I was a sports and culture officer at UJ before I headed up my campus SRC so even my student politics could not abandon sports.
I then became a South African youth hockey promoter and represented SA at the World Youth Hockey Promoter Festival in Santiago, Chile where my presentation about the role that black female hockey players have had on me placed third. I was then elected as Secretary General of the Federation of International Hockey’s youth hockey panel.
I represented South Africa at the 48th International Session for Young Participants at the International Olympic Academy in Olympia, Greece and was a Recipient of a Ministerial Women in Sport award from the then Minister of Sports and Recreation in 2014.
What has been your biggest career highlight to date?
I think the opportunity to have been the youngest member of the SASCOC board has been an exciting highlight and being able to be in the thick of women in sports issues from that platform and to have been part of the drive that many women have embarked on to achieve 50/50 representation as a firm clause in the SASCOC Constitution.
What are some of the challenges you have faced and successfully overcame?
I think we still must fight the legitimacy of women in leadership roles. That is a daily battle that we all shoulder and I think every day that we remain in our leadership positions is us overcoming those daily challenges.
You are currently Head of the Women’s Commission at SASCOC. What is your focus?
My focus has been reworking the direction of the commission. This is to ensure that it meets all the matters that are critical to women. The leadership environment is one that we still must look at, but we also must acknowledge how far behind we are on issues around gender. It is clear that not too many federations have a definitive view or approach to differences in sex development, to transgenderism and even to homosexuality. Since these issues around gender affect women they should also be the focus of the commission, in addition to:
- Safety- including safety from sexual predation
- Conducive facilities
- Capacity building
- Policy frameworks
- Inclusive and intersectional sports community
Do you think that women in sport have freedom to express themselves in the sporting industry?
I think strides have been made but we certainly not done yet. Our Miss Universe said we must take up space and we certainly have a lot more space to take up in sport.
What changes do you think need to be made for women to be heard?
Representivity is needed. We currently only have three female CEO’s in sport, approximately 11 female Presidents and about six female Vice Presidents in sports and that needs to change immensely. We also need to take to task the nation and world around taking women’s sport seriously.
I come from a sports code that from an international level to locally women and men are afforded the same level of service. A women’s tournament and league are taken as seriously as a men’s one and is serviced the same. Our Premier Hockey League also gives male and female athletes the same pay and the same prize money. We need to move towards this line of thinking in sport.
How would you describe the state of women’s sport in South Africa?
I think we have really made great strides, but the work is not done yet. Its inspiring to see the number of female athletes going professional in their respective codes and looking at true commercial opportunities as pro athletes. We still have work to do in the leadership sectors and we still have lots of work to do in the fields of equal pay and servicing our female athletes and teams the same as we would the male.
What state would you like to see women’s sport in the next five years?
Fully commercialised, women need to be profiting and prospering in sport. Women should have facilities in their communities so that harm does not befall them enroute to trainings or matches because they need to travel far and through unsafe spaces to access their sport.
In five years, I wish to see sports as a safe space for women to be free from sexual predation and an inclusive space where women are not discriminated against by race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc. Also, it should not be a shock for women to hold critical seats in the leadership of sports in the country.
Who are some of the women in sport who inspire you and why?
To name a few would not do justice to the massive number of women across different sectors of sport who inspire me. I am inspired daily by women who are coming for it all in sports. Those of today and those of tomorrow and most definitely those of yesterday who went onto the sports fields, into boardrooms and displayed their excellence.
What is your advice to women in sport who are making their way in their various sporting codes?
Push, push and push, do not stop, because you are forging a way for those who need to come after you. Do not stay down if you are pushing for the right things, you cannot please everyone, but you need to be able to sleep well at night.
Freedom Day is approaching, what does freedom mean to you?
To put it simply, to me freedom means, the open and equal access to opportunities.
Personally, what are you still hoping to achieve in your career?
I want to still be in the mix to achieve some of the transformational goals that will improve the lives of women in sport.
Photo 1 Caption: Sport has been running through Lwandile Simelane’s veins from a tender age as she previously represented her province as a hockey player. She then ventured into being a sports and culture officer at University of Johannesburg, South African youth hockey promoter, Secretary General of the Federation of International Hockey’s youth hockey panel and is now the Head of the Women’s Commission at SASCOC. Photo: Lwandile Simelane (Instagram)