Banyana Banyana’s rising star, Kholosa Biyana, is so passionate about playing football that she quit her job to focus on making her dream a reality.
In 2013, after graduating from Durban University of Technology with a Diploma in radiography, Biyana returned to her hometown in the Eastern Cape to work at Mjanyana hospital.
It took her just three months to realise that her job was not allowing her to the freedom to fulfil her dream of playing for Banyana Banyana.
Biyana’s decision to leave a stable job could have easily backfired, especially in South Africa, where it is challenging for women footballers to earn a living off sport.
In 2019, she achieved her ultimate dream of representing South Africa at the FIFA Women’s World Cup in France.
Currently studying towards her Honours in Biokinetics at the University of Western Cape, while also playing for the university’s football team, Kholosa believes it is important for her to continue studying, to have something to fall back on in the future.
Speaking to Celine Abrahams, Biyana reflects on developing a passion for football at a young age and shares lessons she learnt playing at the World Cup.
Kholosa, thanks for chatting to us! How are you dealing with being in lockdown, even though some restrictions have been lifted during Level 3?
I actually got time to focus on my studies. Things have been going well but there is a lot of schoolwork. At times I become lazy and feel like I have all the time to do my work. I’ve also been resting and trying to do strengthening programs.
What has it been like training on your own?
To be honest, when lockdown started, I was enjoying it. Now it’s starting to bore me. I miss being on the field, miss my teammates and training with them. To be honest it’s not the same, everything is different, the intensity is not the same. But it’s for the best, people can recover from injuries, we need to stay at home and be sane while staying healthy. I still want to become a better player; I don’t want to start from 0. I need to be ready so that when the time to back to the field comes, I am ready.
Let’s talk more about football. Where does your passion for the game come from?
My dad is known for football back home, my brothers used to play football when we were growing up, so I used to go with them. I also used to play 1 v 1 games with my sister at home. When I moved to boarding school in 2005, my dad used to come pick me up every day, drive to training (30mins) drop me off and he had to drive an hour back home. He used to do this 5 times a week. I guess he also saw my potential.
What was your childhood like? Were you always involved in sports?
I was always involved in sport. I used to be the only girl at school or back home playing with the boys. At school I tried all sports that were available, but I enjoyed football more than anything
You quit your job to pursue your football career. Please tell us about that journey.
I had one goal which was to play for Banyana Banyana. I knew the only way I would be part of the national team was to be in university, that’s where we get exposure, especially us from the rural areas. I used to do individual training then play football with guys as they do not physical work, they enjoy passing the ball.
How did your family react when you told them that you were taking a different route in your career?
“It actually worked out well because the sports department supported me whenever I had to be away which I think wasn’t going to happen if I had done a different course. Sport Science and football, great combination!” – Banyana Banyana midfielder, Kholosa Biyana
My parents actually love education, they didn’t know about what I had planned, and I haven’t told them even today (they probably saw it in newspapers). So they were very happy that I was going back to school but they were actually worried about the course I had chosen but I told them I wasn’t accepted to do medicine or pharmacy and this was because I forgot to submit my previous results. It actually worked out well because the sports department supported me whenever I had to be away which I think wasn’t going to happen if I had done a different course. Sport Science and football, great combination!
Was it easy to leave a stable job to venture into soccer?
It was very easy to be honest. I wasn’t worried about the money I was earning. I knew I was going to get a sports scholarship which would cover my tuition. It wasn’t about my job it was about my dream.
You hold a Radiography Diploma, Sports Science and studying Biokinetics – education seems very important to you! How have you managed to keep studying while trying to pursue a national football career?
I am currently doing my Honours in Biokinetics now, am not done yet. It has been very difficult. But I understand the importance of education while pursuing my career. I just make sure I don’t miss submission, don’t sleep without making sure that work is done.
My academic record will still be sent home at the end of the year, my parents must be happy when they see it while being proud of me and what I have achieved in football. It’s not just about me but my parents too and people who look up to me. I need to have something to fall back on when I retire from football.
Why do you think that it is important to continue studying?
We are not the same, just because someone had a great career in England, it doesn’t mean we will all play in England, because Banyana Banyana was at the World Cup last year, it doesn’t mean the team will go to all international tournaments and that we (players) will all be at those tournaments. Another person may sacrifice school and things are great, that’s her journey and it was meant to be like that by God. It doesn’t mean if you don’t go to school also, you will walk in the same path. Injuries occur, we need to have something to fall back on just in case things don’t go the way we wish.
What advice would you share with other student-athletes when they find it difficult to manage both aspects?
People are different, to be honest, you don’t have to finish varsity in 3 years, you can take your time but do not drop out of school. Be at school while working towards your goal, you still need to train hard so when that opportunity to play professionally comes, you are ready.
You featured at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup with Banyana Banyana. Please tell us about that experience.
It was a great experience! I played against the best teams and players. I’d love to play at that level again, I’ve learnt a lot as a player and together as a team.
What was the biggest lesson that you learned while playing on the international stage?
“Those players are prepared, technically, tactically, physically, emotionally and psychologically, they play professional football. Football is on another level in other countries.” – Biyana speaks on the difference between women’s football in South Africa and the rest of the world.
Those players are prepared, technically, tactically, physically, emotionally and psychologically, they play professional football. Football is on another level in other countries. I continue to share my experience with my teammates, hopefully I am making a difference in the team and in their lives. Football is not just about becoming a great player it’s also about becoming a great person.
What do you think South Africa can take away from the rest of the countries that played in that tournament when it comes to how we support, invest and promote women’s football?
We need people to invest in women’s football. The team managed to qualify without a professional league. We need a professional league so that players can be committed to the game and the national team needs to play very international break against the best teams, get exposure and play abroad.
Which female sportswomen inspire you and why?
Players like Refiloe “FIFI” Jane who balanced school and football and is now playing professional football abroad. Mamello Makhabane is another one that I look up to. She is a great player, great person and still remains so humble.
What is your greatest sporting ambition?
Play in a professional environment, be consistent, play in an AFCON tournament, another FIFA World Cup and the Olympics.
Photo 1 Caption: Banyana Banyana’s rising star, Kholosa Biyana, is so passionate about her football career that she quit her job to focus on making her dream of being a soccer player a reality. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu
Photo 2 Caption: In 2013, after graduating from Durban University of Technology with a Diploma in radiography, Biyana returned to her hometown in the Eastern Cape to work at Mjanyana hospital. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu
Photo 3 Caption: She called it quits after working for three months as she realised that her job was not allowing her to fulfil her dream of playing for Banyana Banyana. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu
Photo 4 Caption: Biyana’s decision to leave a stable job could have easily backfired, especially in South Africa where it is extremely difficult for female footballers to earn a living off the sport. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu