As the Momentum gsport Awards approaches and South African women in sport anticipate the 15th edition of the country’s leading women’s sport awards, I decided to look at how celebrity South Africa has put women’s sport on the Red Carpet. Still cannot believe its 15 years!

Well firstly, it’s a fact that celebrities will take advantage of an open door and these awards were no different. I remember a launch at Wanderers club years ago, it was just a handful of press and the eager celebrity, but this was not the normal run of the mill of celebrity, these were A- Listers. Now that’s not always easy as our celebrities are very choosy as they sometimes get paid to make appearances. Not with these awards, I can imagine them missing family events to be seen with sports stars.

The writer, Kuli Roberts, pictured with media doyenne Gwen Gill. Photo: gsport

Attending product launches was a reflex action for me and I knew what to expect. Air kisses, catching up, pretending to be dodging photographers and hopes of a decent goody bag. No dodgy samples or portable chargers or subscriptions to magazines.

Entertainment varied at launches in the early 2000s from trapeze artists, singers, dancers to performers – so no one was ever surprised, but acted it. The difference with the gsport Awards is that they were about celebrating and putting a spotlight on women who had actually accomplished so much without any tender or government connection. These were self-made women who deserved to be applauded for their hard work and tenacity. Now I must be honest I know nothing about sports, I remember Flo Jo and those tennis sisters and who could forget the swearing John McEnroe? But these stars I wanted to know, there is something humbling about meeting a highly skilled individual and we were there for them.

I was meeting giants like Mokgadi Caster Semenya, a middle distance runner and 2016 Olympic gold medalist. I was rubbing shoulders with the real stars, like international swimmer and double Olympic champion Penny Heyns. Now you would think these internationally renowned sports stars would act like Divas, not this lot. I once attended a Mike Tyson dinner where we had to wait in a line get a picture with the ear-lover, but not at the gsport Awards as we joked and laughed with superstars as if we too were stars.

Celebrating women in sport is important for many reasons but besides going there to pay respect and give accolades to our best women, we (journalists) were fans and so were the celebrities lucky enough to be invited. Yes the event from inception became an event on social calendars because celebrities loved it, they loved the attention next to heroines and the sports women seemed amused as  they took all this with grace and humility. The event was coveted and the invite was a must-have. Who did not want to be spotted with an internationally renowned woman?

Every TV crew from every local and Entertainment Channel was there to get interviews and a glimpse at the stars. The Red Carpet, which never has order, had everyone listening for a change so we could all glimpse at the stars. Even journalists forgot their vocations and asked for pictures, hilarious and no names will be mentioned, Oupa. Yes, Red carpets are usually well planned abroad, they have helpers and ladders with a professional atmosphere. But not in SA where there was always pushing and shoving… unless it was the gsport Awards. These awards have always had an international standard with a highly organized and secure red carpet.

Celebrities arrived in their numbers because of the great publicity awaiting them as every newspaper featured the gsport Awards and we were not there for the run of the mill celebrities but sports stars.

I must be honest though, had the awards not been championed by a respected sports celebrity, trusted in her field and in her own right , Kass Naidoo, they would not be as celebrity studded. It was also the calibre of celebrity; she invited A- listers, making the run- of- the mill celebrity want to be part of it. Popular was Bonang Matheba, Minnie, Uyanda Mbuli and Shashi Naidoo.  A- listers from different vocations, Ministers like Fikile Mbalula. I remember him, Minister Mbalula looking so adorable next to Caster.

It was so heartwarming to watch musicians act like fans, wonderful to see our actresses applaud Sports women on and off stage. Although shy, it was always  great to see the multiple winner of the gsport Athlete of the year Award, Caster mingle and chat with all, without favour, amusing to find myself asking for a selfie, which lifts me up when I am down.

Another great thing about these awards is celebrities were no longer just seeing the same faces. The SA celebrities since the 1990s were always invited to launches filled with their peers and same Entertainment journalists who were so accustomed to them, some were dating.

So you can imagine the excitement from both the press and celebrities when they were invited to the gsport Awards. It was an opportunity to meet people they would have never met at a Tea or Kwaito Launch. These were stars who mingle with Royalty, represented us globally, this was like going to Greece to meet extraordinary women… if your name was on the list.

Did celebrity influence the spotlight on women in sport? Yes, only because celebrities wanted to be seen with the elite in sport. All they wanted were memories and if a single picture was possible, they were calling the glam squad and pitching.

Not really known for their fashion sense, the sports stars always kept it minimum, while some of our celebrities dressed as if they were going to the club or the horses. I swear I remember Brenda Fassie in a cricket outfit.

Another aspect that brought celebrities were the inspiring and to-the-point speeches, no tedious stats nobody deserved to hear sober. We have always loved the gsport awards as they brought the real stars and everybody wanted to know them, including celebrities. They got bigger venues and better goody bags but everybody was there to see the stars. Without the Superstars the awards would not stand out. Forget the goody bag, your favourites got dolled up to be with the real stars.

 

 

Photo 1 Caption: Media Personality, Kuli Roberts blogs about the celebrities playing their part at the Momentum gsport Awards over the years. Photo: Kuli Roberts