The hurdles for a women in sport are still an unfortunate reality with grassroots level proving significantly worse. From little to no support, to the universal issue of pay disparities, the bad cards women are dealt with are numerous. As a result, the dreams and aspirations of many women are dashed.
That is why we need more initiatives like Thetha Women, an effort by former Springbok Women’s player, Lamla Momoti. Her goal is to bridge the gender inequality gap at development structures for young girls in sport.
The continuous cry for equal opportunities often falls on deaf ears and as a former national player, Momoti’s experience has allowed her to assist those around her as that is one of her goals; for a fair shot to be given to our much deserving women in sport.
Her strategy includes establishing a sports partnership between the Primary Schools, High Schools, Universities and clubs where there is a balance between education and sport.
It is no secret that sport is age sensitive and that is why with a BSC in Human Studies, Momoti is also passionate about young girls furthering their studies so as to have the proverbial “plan B”.
Her inspiring story of defeating the odds to create a space for fellow women in sport called for an interview with Celine Abrahams.
An organization that empowers women in sport is up there on our hierarchy of needs as a sporting nation. So it was only fitting that we speak to someone who runs such an initiative. Lamla Momoti, thank you for talking to us. Tell us more about from Thetha Women.
When I played rugby, I always had this dream and vision that one day when I stop playing, when I stop serving national duty, I will start my own foundation where I will see to it that the young, up and coming athletes have a solid base and the support that they need knowing the challenges that we had when we played. So, I asked myself why not share the experience I have and that has been working very well for me ever since.
I remember in 2013, when I was at Forter University (Fort Hare), Alice Campus, where I studied my BSC in Human Studies – that is Sport Management – when I got there, the women’s rugby team was no longer functioning. It was there before but when I came it was non-existent! I revived it and that project that I had went very well. I remember going to the coach’s office and asking him why there weren’t any girls playing rugby. He mentioned a lot of challenges, but I was willing to do everything in my power to make sure that we had a team again.
“I used that to my advantage and took care of the team by myself in 2015 – I coached and played at the same time! I remember we were ranked second in the Border region and that was one of my greatest moments in rugby where I had my own team.” – Former Springbok Women’s player, Lamla Momoti.
I was introduced to managing and coaching girls. I had the experience; patience and I could demonstrate to others to make sure that the team would gel very well. So, I used that to my advantage and took care of the team by myself in 2015 – I coached and played at the same time! I remember we were ranked second in the Border region and that was one of my greatest moments in rugby where I had my own team.
What are you hoping to change in women’s sport through this initiative?
I sat down in 2019 and told myself that I need to take this (the initiative) to another level. I am already helping anyone who comes into my corner for advice and with that I drew up a plan which was to represent women in sport at large in South Africa, not only in rugby but all women in different sporting codes. I drew up that plan, I jotted down that I wanted to be the voice for women, to act in the interest of women in sport in the country, to market and improve the quality and value of development at all levels that we are still lacking and to provide recognition for individuals.
I also wanted to create a partnership. A sport partnership between the Primary Schools, High Schools, the clubs and Universities where there is a balance between education and sport. We all know that sport is a short career whether it ends by injury, aging or taking another route on your journey, it is important to also encourage further education. Our athletes need an exit plan and my thought of an exit plan would be them to study and pursue their career. They need to understand that at the end of the day they have their families that they need to provide for and plan for their future beyond their sporting careers. That is what I am trying to achieve through my initiative.
What are your views on grassroots level sport?
I think we as women in sport, we as women who have passion for sport, we need to try and close the gender gap and cultural barriers at grassroots level. It is still difficult for us to get the marketing that we need at that level. Looking at boys when they play at school level, we see some of their games being televised, they are getting sponsors and the foundation is laid for them. But, when we look on our side, we really don’t have that support and we play the same sport, we play on the same field, we play under the same rules, I always say that I see no difference between Babalwa Latsha (Springbok Women’s captain) and Siya Kolisi (Springbok Men’s captain), they are both captain’s of national teams but to society they are worlds apart.
Talking about the grassroots level at schools, you would see that the teachers, the former players and people from the community are doing their bit and doing everything that they can to see to it that girls are introduced to sport but it’s still difficult because in some instances you would find out that there are no facilities, equipment, sponsors, kits and no one is putting their hand up to say that they want to be accountable and sponsor where they can to see that women in sport in South Africa are taken care of from a young age.
“If we are paying to go and watch men’s soccer for instance, then we also need to pay for women because they deserve that support.” – Momoti points out the differences between women’s and men’s sport.
Even going to club level. At the clubs you would see that when the men are playing and you as a spectator enter the gate you would have to pay but when women play it’s free entry because we need people to come in and support and that’s taking a toll because women’s sport has been operating for decades in South Africa and this needs to change. If we are paying to go and watch men’s soccer for instance, then we also need to pay for women because they deserve that support. Even at provincial set-ups we have that mentality, the wrong mentality where when the women’s teams play, the entrance is free, they are made to play in some stadium in the middle of nowhere and this is something that I don’t understand. Why is there still that gap? Why can’t we also play at Newlands Stadium when we have games?
What needs to be done to ensure accountability in order to better our development structures?
We first need to change that narrative of inequality that we have when it comes to gender – we need to foster that gender equality in sport. The situation of men can have things on a silver platter, but women can’t, and we are playing on the same field, needs to change.
I have thought of ideas of how to lessen the gap and media coverage. Let’s take High School gender inequality in sport for instance, there are more girls playing sport today than in the past, however, there is still a long way to go in order to create equal opportunities. We have a few girls enjoying sport and have that will to continue playing until they reach a professional level. We are losing them in the process because they know that there are a lot of challenges that are still out there when it comes to women’s sport and it will take a lot out of you to pursue a sporting career, so you would rather find another job opportunity or career path to follow. We need to ensure that from day one, at entry level that young girls are afforded opportunities and at professional level, we need to see our female athletes receiving the support that they deserve in order for a young girl to see that it is possible to become a successful athlete in the country.
What are your thoughts on the current female rugby players and the interest that is coming from overseas clubs?
I think that we have produced some incredible, skilful girls at a very young age. It is very exciting to see other countries taking note of the quality that we have. At this moment it is a good look that our players are being signed up and I think that is another platform that we can use to grow our players, another platform that we can use for our players to learn more rugby and women in sport in other countries and one day bring back those experiences to share with the next generation. As much as we don’t have a big pool of players, I must say that this is a good opportunity for us.
After launching such an initiative, we would be remiss if we didn’t find out what Lamla’s greatest ambition…
My greatest ambition is to one day be on TV, talking with women in sport in South Africa and having a platform where every women or female athlete can share and display their sporting careers. I want to market our women in sport, I want to see that the quality that we have is not lost at any level because of the challenges that we have. My aim is to make sure that our girls are given the basic support that they need in order to take their careers to the next level. I want to have my own show and I have started on social media where I am empowering women in sport. I do interviews, especially with our Springbok Women’s side who are going to the World Cup next year and during the lockdown, I found it important to engage with them to see how they are going about with preparations and overcoming all the challenges of having to be at home and training alone. I also feel that if we all do our bit as individuals, we can continue to develop women’s sport in the country.
Photo 1 Caption: The hurdles for a women in sport are still an unfortunate reality with grassroots level proving significantly worse. From little to no support, to the universal issue of pay disparities, the bad cards women are dealt with are numerous. As a result, the dreams and aspirations of many women are dashed. That is why we need more initiatives like Thetha Women, an effort by former Springbok Women’s player, Lamla Momoti. Her goal is to bridge the gender inequality gap at development structures for young girls in sport. Photo: Supplied
Photo 2 Caption: The continuous cry for equal opportunities often falls on deaf ears and as a former national player, Momoti’s experience has allowed her to assist those around her as that is one of her goals; for a fair shot to be given to our much deserving women in sport. Photo: Supplied
Photo 3 Caption: Her strategy includes establishing a sports partnership between the Primary Schools, High Schools, Universities and clubs where there is a balance between education and sport. Photo: Supplied