University of Johannesburg’s LLB-Law graduate, Zanele Leon’s greatest ambition is to become a well-respected Sports Law attorney and SARU Accredited Agent, focusing on positively impacting sports laws in the country.
As the first woman of colour candidate SARU player agent, Leon admits that her passion for sport and human rights is unmatched. Growing up in an active sports family, Leon spent her school years on the sports field and aspired to one day become an athlete.
In 2016, she made a change and decided to switch from the field to the boardroom, and, to date, Leon is working under an accredited agent as she continues to climb up the ladder in the agency space.
Speaking with Celine Abrahams, Leon reveals the challenges she faces as a female in a male-dominated industry and shares thoughts on improving women’s sport.
Thank you for taking time out to chat! Please can you introduce yourself to our readers.
My name is Zanele Leon, I am an LLB-Law graduate from the University of Johannesburg. I am one of the first female of colour as a candidate SARU Agent and, I’m passionate about human rights. During my matric year at Glenvista High School, I successfully challenged the inequitable spending on girls’ sports at my school. I was also Miss UJ Varsity Cup 2017 and Miss Varsity Cup second-runner up 2017.
Where does your love for sport stem from?
My passion for sports stems from my time as a sportswoman in school and at university. I come from an active family and being involved with sports is the norm.
Have you always aimed to be in the sport industry?
“I always thought I would be the athlete rather than the agent.” – LLB-Law graduate, Zanele Leon
I have always aspired to be in this industry, it was only in 2016 when I made the change as to which side of the field I was going to be involved in. I always thought I would be the athlete rather than the agent.
Please tell us about your journey to becoming an accredited SARU agent.
My journey started late 2015 when I decided that this is what I wanted to do. At that stage I wasn’t sure what went into being an agent and I could not really find information online. I decided to complete my law degree first before branching out. In 2020, I submitted my application just before lockdown, in one section of the application you are required to list the name of the agent you will be working under for a year as a provisional agent – I didn’t know any agent at the time who was able to take me under their wing, so I took the list of accredited agents published by SARU and started emailing and hoping for an opportunity. I was eventually approached by a boutique sport agency to join their team in July 2020 and have been working under an accredited agent since.
Globally, there are not many women who are agents, especially in rugby. What has motivated you to get into this space?
My biggest motivation has been to create space for women at the table and take up space at the same time. I wanted to see someone who looks like me, to be playing a pivotal role in South African sports. In addition to this I want to create an environment that is inviting to women and to break down the stereotypes that limit us in any industry or profession.
What have been some of your challenges breaking into the sports agency space?
My two biggest challenges currently are passing the agency exam that requires a minimum of 80% to pass, I am scheduled to write on the 1st of July 2021. As well as sourcing funds for the Accreditation fee that is R25 000 once an applicant has passed the exam. It was also a challenge to find an agent to work under and to navigate this industry with a newly founded sports agency with very little income.
Who are some agents you draw inspiration from?
My greatest inspiration is Nicole Lynn, she is an NFL agent who recently resigned from her job at international law firm Norton Rose Fulbright. She was the first female to become an NFL agent in the USA.
What is the best advice you have received to keep you on top of your game and striving to achieve your goals?
The best advice I received was that I must use whatever form of discrimination I may experience; I must use it to my advantage and make sure that anyone who underestimates me regrets it.
“I remember the challenge faced by Nike athletes who had to fight for their endorsement deals because they had decided to start a family, male athletes do not experience this.” – Leon speaks on challenges women face being in the sport industry.
What are your thoughts on women’s sport and how can we continue to improve it for future generations?
I believe we are not doing enough for women’s sports and women in sport. There is a long way for the global community to go before there is equity in sports, we must afford women in sport and women’s sport the same opportunities as we do men, from broadcasting games to professionalising these sporting codes.
I believe women in sport are underpaid if they even get paid and are underrepresented in the industry. Women in sport, like other professions, unfortunately experience discrimination that men do not, for example, being worried about starting a family and the impact it will have on our careers and earning potential. When I think of this, I remember the challenge faced by Nike athletes who had to fight for their endorsement deals because they had decided to start a family, male athletes do not experience this.
What is your greatest ambition?
My greatest ambition is to become a well-respected Sports Law attorney and SARU Accredited Agent that is changing South African sports laws that will have a positive impact on the international sports laws that our athletes must adhere to.
Photo 1 Caption: University of Johannesburg’s LLB-Law graduate, Zanele Leon’s greatest ambition is to become a well-respected Sports Law attorney and SARU Accredited Agent, focusing on positively impacting sports laws in the country. Photo: Supplied/Zanele Leon