Just last week, ABSA announced a R500 million deal to sponsor the Premier Soccer League (PSL) for the next five years, making the South African men’s league the richest on the continent.
As the announcement was made, thousands of female soccer players around the country prepared for the start of the sponsor-less women’s provincial league, which got underway around the country this past Saturday, with teams from nine provinces competing.
Each province runs their respective regional leagues every weekend until the end of March 2008. The eventual winner from each province will then advance to the National Playoffs to decide the National Women’s League champions, which usually get underway in May.
Cellular communications company, Vodacom, pulled out of sponsoring the women’s provincial league a few months back, and Nobesuto Totwana, who owns Eastern Cape outfit, Liverpool Ladies, is desperately hoping SAFA manage to secure a new league sponsor soon.
Totwana told gsport it’s becoming increasingly difficult to run a women’s team because of the limited financial and moral support.
"We receive R14 000 from SAFA head office, but our taxi fares itself comes to about R37 000 at the end of the season. We’re trying our best to come to agreements with the taxis plus we ask the girls to bring R50 each along when we travel to away-matches. Its tough, but we are doing our best. The Director of (SAFA) Competitions says there is a possible sponsor on the cards, and he will tell us in writing when that sponsor signs.
"Although we don’t have sponsors, we try to have some training camps. We get provincial coaches to come talk to the girls and help prepare them for the upcoming season. The girls are determined to do well and get off to a good start.
Commenting on the standard of women’s soccer in the Eastern Cape, Totwana says it’s not what they were expecting as women.
"The league is in its fifth year and we don’t get much support, especially from men, who have been in football for a long time. There are some people who are supporting us, and we do appreciate their support."
Tuks women’s soccer coach, Sello Mokoena, believes the only way forward is to ensure that provincially, the game is well taken care of, so it can feed the national level.
"We need to focus on our provincial leagues. We can’t have teams rushing to the national league when they cannot complete their season on the provincial level. Its going to be a mess on the national level to have teams who can’t play every game. I believe its better to maintain and make sure the system is right at the provincial level. Once it’s right, we can go to national level."
Even though the women’s provincial league got underway this weekend without a sponsor, national women’s soccer coach, Augustine Makalakalane, says he is happy that SAFA got the league off the ground again.
Makalakalane says for a while now, its been hard for him to see the women’s league so disorganized and in such disarray, but he is looking forward to seeing it improve one step at a time.
"I am very excited about the start of the league. The only thing I’ve hoped for since I’ve been in this job was to see the girls playing, not only at club level, but also playing at schools. I had an opportunity to go around to the provinces and talk to the coaches and the club owners about the importance of the league.
"I know they are facing various problems, but I had to make them understand what I needed from their players. Their players should be trained in a certain way and they have to work on constantly improving their skills," says Makalakalane.
"For me at the moment, I am worried about the lack of scoring prowess at the national level. I don’t have natural strikers. All my players are attacking midfielders I’ve converted to strikers; that’s why we are very thin on scoring goals."
Makalakalane is thrilled that the league is going to help the players play every weekend, giving them match competitiveness, helping them improve their fitness levels, and equipping them with the necessary experience.
"For them to be playing regularly will mean that I will have a pool of players I will be able to select from, that won’t be biased.
"I’ve been relying on too many tried and tested players … because of no choice… if the league is not there you only rely on experience, and experience without fitness and enthusiasm. Now the girls will be enthusiastic to want to play the league because they know it’s organised."
Makalakalane urges sponsors to come on board and give women a "slice of the cake". "If you look internationally, in England and Germany, when the men get a sponsorship, the women are taken care of, too.
"Yes, it’s a man’s world in a way, but that does not exclude women. They are starting to get the local women’s game organized and things are getting better. Attitudes are also changing and the results are forthcoming, so why not give us a chance?"
"Give us the support we need. The media has done a tremendous job to try to highlight the plight of women’s football and also the talent and the good things that women in football have been doing. It is time for sponsors to come and trust and believe in this commodity. There is a big market for women if it’s properly administered."