The sky is the limit for former Banyana Banyana player turned corporate star, Lydia Monyepao, who is chasing big leadership dreams, after recently making the shortlist for the position of South African Football Association CEO.
Even though, Monyepao didn’t get the SAFA position, the current Deputy Director of Professional Services for TuksSport, is confident that she is on the right track in terms of impacting South African sports leadership.
Monyepao played football at a time when women players earned R100 a day stipend and played friendlies against aged group boys teams. They wore men’s kit and had to return it after playing.
When she became Banyana Banyana team manager in 2012, she got to play her part in changing the conditions that women’s players faced
As this top leader approaches seven years in her current role at TuksSport, she reflects on her journey to date with Celine Abrahams, and talks about her leadership aspirations, which include delivering a major world event like a FIFA World Cup.
Lydia, thank you for taking time out for gsport! Let us chat about your position as Deputy Director of Professional Services for TuksSport. When and how did this opportunity arise for you?
I was employed in this position on the 1st of March 2014. It’s almost seven years now that I’ve been in this position. So, how this opportunity arose? Basically, I was before March 2014, working as Team Manager for Banyana Banyana in the South African Football Association.
I had been there for two years. I heard through a friend who was working for AmaTuks that TuksSport was recruiting a Deputy Director for Support Services, which is what it was called then, it has since changed to Professional Services. They had advertised the job, they had interviewed people, but they had not found the right candidate and the person who was occupying that position then had retired and they had continued keeping him on until they found a suitable candidate.
I asked them to send me the job description and the job advert so that I could have a look. When I received those documents, I realized that I actually met the minimum criteria. So, I thought it was a good opportunity for me to explore…
I sent my CV through to the relevant people and a motivation for why I would want to be employed as Deputy Director at TuksSport. I then got an invitation for the interview. I went through and there was another gentleman on the day that was interviewed for the same position.
Later on, I heard after my interview that I had actually gotten the job and we started with all the negotiations and all that stuff that comes with a new job, you know, so yeah, when everything had been wrapped up, I started at TuksSport on the 1st of March 2014.
What is your job description and what have you been able to achieve since your appointment?
“My job is mostly around compliance, ensuring that TuksSport as a department at the University of Pretoria complies with the strategic vision of the university.” – TuksSport Deputy Director, Lydia Monyepao
My job is mostly around compliance, ensuring that TuksSport as a department at the University of Pretoria complies with the strategic vision of the university. Also, efficient and effective interactions with internal and external stakeholders and I also need to ensure that our division – the Professional Services Division – is operating effectively through continuous strategic and operational management.
Areas where I mostly specialise in or where I spend most of my time is on Finances and Human Resources for the department. I do focus on Finances more, obviously because I studied it and I am quite strong at it, I have worked in corporate with Finance and Auditing. So, this position also requires someone who has a strong financial background.
It entails quite a few things, you know, as far as finance is concerned. Things like budgeting, one needs to ensure that we have annual budgets that are monitored constantly to make sure that our actual spending is in line with the budgets and we don’t overspend. I also have to approve the department’s purchases and things that the clubs are doing themselves. I have to make sure that this all complies with financial policies of the university.
In the recruitment selection appointments of new staff to the department of the clubs, I need to ensure that we follow the university’s HR policies as far as that is concerned. So, that is where I spend most of my time.
There are other areas for instance where managers are reporting to me such as Marketing and Communications, sport facilities management, client services, IT, general administration of the department, so I’ve got managers in those areas reporting directly to me, so I necessarily don’t have to do the work but I have to coordinate what they are doing and report to the Executive in terms of what is happening and answer whenever there are issues that are concerned.
What is Tuks’ philosophy when it comes to the development of athletes?
In a nutshell from where I stand, I think for us it to ensure that we expose our athletes that we bring into the system. To have quality coaching, hence we ensure that we hire quality coaches into the system and also ensure that we expose them to sports science and medicine because that has become really important in the performance of athletes in this day and age.
“We get a lot of athletes that are coming from previously disadvantaged communities that do not necessarily understand the importance of nutrition or balanced diet and how it relates to their ultimate performance.” – Monyepao speaks on the challenges TuksSport faces with athletes from various backgrounds.
And, also nutrition. We get a lot of athletes that are coming from previously disadvantaged communities that do not necessarily understand the importance of nutrition or balanced diet and how it relates to their ultimate performance. So, it is important that we, in producing and developing athletes, not only expose them to quality coaching but also to sports science, medicine and nutrition.
As a department of the university, it is also important that we produce responsible global citizens. Education is very important for us, we recruit athletes who are also sound academically to ensure that they not only depend on sport because anything can happen through injury or retirement, sport is not a lifetime career.
With over 15 years’ experience in the financial and sport management industries, what have been some of the challenges you have faced along the way?
Some of the challenges I have experienced and I talked about compliance earlier on, is just that people don’t like following rules and whenever there are rules in place people will try to go around them, especially if it doesn’t suit them. So, in my position you constantly have to be the bad person trying to make sure that people comply and follow the rules. You become an enemy to a lot of people, especially if you are new in the system because they think that you are there to guard and babysit them and they can’t do what they used to do before.
And just because they used to do things the wrong way before, they always think that the wrong ways are fine. When you try to correct those kind of things that they are doing, you, like I said, become an enemy of the state.
But, nonetheless, you have to fight those kind of things and ensure that compliance happens because it is your head that is on the block.
You transitioned from football player to corporate guru. How was that change for you?
I think transitioning from being a football player to corporate was in the beginning a bit difficult…
As you know, for us women playing football is not a professional career one can have and that you can depend on to put food on the table, so I had to balance playing football as a passion and represent my country and then on the other hand, having a job that would help me have a career in future, that I can help myself and my family.
Eventually, it was a smooth transition because I had to let go of playing football on an international and national level and at some point focus on my work.
“So, at some point I had to choose what I wanted to do – play football full-time, which was not an option, so it meant that I had to focus on corporate career.” – Monyepao reveals the financial challenges of being a female footballer.
When I was playing national team football, I was also doing my articles at EY. I used to take a lot of sport participation leave to go and compete. Most times, I would run out of leave and then take unpaid leave. And, what I would get paid was nowhere near what I was getting doing my audit articles or working full-time. It was challenging because there were times where I wouldn’t have enough money to pay bills.
So, at some point I had to choose what I wanted to do – play football full-time, which was not an option, so it meant that I had to focus on corporate career.
Please tell us more about your playing days. Where did your passion for football come from?
Shew, I think it really came from following football on television. I used to watch men’s football a lot until I got to the International School of South Africa. I was exposed to a lot of sporting codes that I didn’t even know existed! Coming from a village and a school where we were exposed to only three types of sport being football for boys, netball for girls and athletics for everybody. I didn’t know about squash, volleyball, basketball, etc.
As I was going along I started to discover football. I was once watching TV and I saw Banyana Banyana players being interviewed. I was interested because I saw girls playing football, so I meant that I could also play.
I went on to register to play football after school but they scratched my name out, saying that I couldn’t play because football is only for boys. It was like that in the school back then so they told me to register for another sporting code whether it would be hockey, netball, etc. So, I didn’t get that opportunity, but the year before I left there was one teacher who came from the U.S. called Mr Hunt.
He had been exposed to women playing football – we know what level women’s football is at in the U.S – so, he encouraged us to play. He started a mini team, a mini five-a-side and there were a few of us who showed interest and we got a few games against other schools around.
It was when I got to Wits where my interest for football escalated because when I got there I found that they had a football league – an internal league. The residential houses actually competed against each other and they had a tough women’s league. I was selected and played for one of the houses and eventually I got the opportunity to trial for the Wits team and I managed to get in.
We then went on to compete at the USSA’s competition. I was the top goal scorer and our team won the championship. From there, it was no turning back. I began taking my football serious, although I was at the same time playing basketball, so I had to juggle the two while I was studying. But, I think football grew a lot faster because of the interest the association was putting into the development of women’s football then as compared to women’s basketball.
One day, I got called into Banyana Banyana for trials and I went with the team to Kenya and Egypt that was back in 1998. I got to see how things worked and I realised that my football was not on the level that it was supposed to be at when I looked at the players around me. I realised that I was way off.
We came back home and I didn’t make the final squad to go to the African Women’s Championship, but I vowed that I would go back and work on my skills, improve on what was missing and believed that one day I would get back in the team. That’s exactly what I did and in 2002, I was back in the team. I went on to play two AWCON tournaments, All-Africa Games in Nigeria, I also got to compete for Wits’ university’s team at the World Student Games in 2001 in China and 2003 in South Korea.
I improved drastically because I put my head into it and worked tirelessly to improve myself. And, it was about me working on the things that I was good at and master them.
What was the state of women’s football when you started?
Women’s football wasn’t massive and exposure in the media wasn’t all that great. If you found something in the media about women’s football, you were lucky! On TV, you were EXTRA lucky! Talking about Banyana Banyana would happen once in a blue moon.
So, the exposure was lacking and when I got to Banyana, I found that the kits actually belonged to Bafana Bafana, you were not allowed to keep the kit at the end of a tournament or camp because they would tell us that the kit doesn’t belong to us, it belongs to the men’s team.
The friendly games that we had were against the U15 and U17 boys, it was rare that you would find us traveling to other countries to play the way you see Banyana doing now.
I think in the year 2000 they managed to get some games against the U.S. but it was one of those rare occasions, other than that we hardly played friendly games preparing for international tournaments.
The women’s game has come far ever since I started playing and the money obviously is something else. We got paid, but it was something for toiletries, they would give something like R100 a day and when we left the country it was about R200. I remember one time when I was in camp I had to continuously phone the manager about my money which was our stipend!
For us back then it wasn’t more about the money because we knew the money wasn’t there, it was more about representing our country and donning that jersey.
How has the game evolved over the years?
The women’s game has come a long way. These days Banyana are getting the opportunity to play friendlies against the likes of Japan, the U.S. Norway, Switzerland, etc, countries that we only dreamt of playing against – those dreams were just up in the air.
The girls of today have more opportunities to play other countries and get exposed to quality football. They are also exposed to international scouts, hence we are seeing more of our players playing overseas, they have international contracts something that we never had.
They got to play at the FIFA Women’s World Cup due to the investment the association is putting into the national team now.
Ever since SASOL came on board to support the women’s national team, they have grown from strength to strength – qualifying for the Olympics in 2012, 2016 and as I mentioned the World Cup – those are huge strides that the team has taken and it is because of the backing that they have now.
When you look at your impact in women’s football in the country, what stands out as a highlight moment for you?
I would say going back when I was appointed as Team Manager for Banyana Banyana in 2012 after they had qualified for the London Olympic Games. Having played and knowing what it was like to be on the field and then going back to a different role and trying something new was eye-opening. It took a lot to deliver a team to an international competition and I did it several times.
I was fighting for players rights because I once was in their shoes and I was empathetic. I fought for payments, for them to keep kits and everything else. Me being a player before made me fight even more for them because I knew the effort that they were putting day in and day out on the field.
Another moment I would say stood out for me was when I went back to my village after many, many years and I started a girls outreach programme where I delivered a football clinic to the girls, exposing them to the game and teaching that football is not necessarily for boys. In the villages it happens a lot that they have this perception that it is only for boys.
In September 2020 you were one of five leaders shortlisted for the SAFA CEO post and the only woman candidate. What are your views on the lack of women acknowledgement when it comes to leadership appointments?
Well, this is something that is taking place in South Africa, it’s generally everywhere! I recently did a study with Business School at Stellenbosch University on women’s leadership and you see the lack of female leadership in top companies, We still have a long way to go but it is something that we need to take seriously and we need to drive forward in our country and in several sport organisations.
How did you feel about receiving the recognition from SAFA?
It was exciting to be shortlisted, as one of the top three leaders for the SAFA CEO post. Following my interview and the assessment tests that we did, I think it gave me the confidence – normally we lack that confidence and think we aren’t good enough to do something. This is something that we as women need to work on. We tend to shy away from applying for posts because we think we are lacking but we need to step up and go for it! I am grateful for those people who called me up and told me about the opportunity and pushed me despite my doubts about applying.
I believe things worked out well because I made the top three. Yes, I didn’t get the job but the fact that I made the top three shows the potential that I have in leading a top organisation such as the South Africa Football Association.
What are your hopes for women’s sport in South Africa for the future?
That our girls get more media attention, get more exposure whenever they are representing the country or even when they are in camp so people get to see more of women’s sport. I also hope and wish that more sponsors would come on board. They are deserving of getting sponsorship backing. Lastly, we need more women leaders in sports organisations. I think that as long as sport is mainly male-dominated it is going to be very difficult for the voice of the girl-child to be heard. We need women who can go into those board meetings and fight for the rest out there.
If there is one piece of advice that you would share with a young girl who is aiming to make it in the sport industry, what would that advice be?
Believe in yourselves. It is important that we all believe in ourselves and our abilities. If we don’t believe in ourselves and be confident, who is going to take us seriously? So, go forth, apply for opportunities that come your way, also it is important that we empower ourselves and get the necessary skills for the jobs that may come our way.
With all your achievements to date, what else is on your bucket list?
I think my application for the SAFA post has had me dreaming big! Ever since then I actually started thinking I can go on and perhaps one day lead a sporting organisation, deliver an event such as a FIFA Women’s World Cup whether it may be U17, U20 or senior level. These are the kind of dreams that I am having these days. The sky is the limit, our country is full of opportunities, so we just need to explore them.
Photo 1 Caption: TuksSport Deputy Director, Lydia Monyepao, is chasing big leadership dreams after recently making the shortlist for the South African Football Association CEO post. Photo: Reg Caldecott
Photo 2 Caption: The former Banyana Banyana Team Manager turned corporate star is on track as she impacts the South African sports leadership space. Photo: Reg Caldecott
Photo 3 Caption: As a former national team player, Lydia Monyepao is well aware of the struggles women athletes face and is determined to change the face of the game. Photo: Reg Caldecott
Photo 4 Caption: The top leader is approaching seven years in her current role at TuksSport and is determined to continue breaking barriers. Photo: Supplied
Photo 5 Caption: With all Monyepao’s achievements to date, she is still aiming to deliver a global event with the FIFA Women’s World Cup on her bucket list. Photo: Supplied