With phenomenal sports success being attained by South Africa’s junior and senior athletes, sport enthusiasts are in the throes of euphoria and happiness. Achievements on the global sports stages are applauded with pride and respect. Now that’s all very nice and patriotic.
However, we must not forget celebration of sports feats can also cloud our lens.
We must also ask “who are we celebrating”?
South Africans, yes.
But an honest appraisal and reflection will show how it’s the junior boys (of all colours) and senior men who are achieving awesome titles and medals, with some sportswomen and girls also getting their continental and global accolades.
But where are the black sports girls?
Why are they also not achieving world class feats. It’s not just the white seniors and white boys and girls. The black boys and black senior male athletes are participating internationally and achieving amazing results.
But the black girls and black women are not. Look at South Africa’s performance in the world Under 18 athletics championship in Nairobi, Kenya. South Africa topped the table because it got more gold medals than other countries. But Kenya finished tops with 15 medals compared with South Africa’s 11. South Africa had four black boy world champions and one white girl champion.
Kenya delivered girls and boys among their medallists. If South Africa’s boys can become youth world champions, win global medals and produce world class performances, then why are we not seeing such scintillating performances from black girls?
Black girls are participating in sport. They are developing from grassroots level to become provincial champions and top ranked national players. But it’s the platform from national to international which is not proving supportive for them. N
ational teams like athletics, swimming, hockey, badminton, netball have just a few black girls with many more white girls and boys. If the black girls can’t get selected for international representation, how is South Africa going to have representative national senior teams?
While we celebrate sports achievements, it’s easy to forget about the missing black girls. In the moments of triumph and subsequent national applause and pride we forget to ask the critical questions that are impacting on black girls’ performance in international sport. It’s not that black girls can’t achieve internationally.
South Africa’s world class and world champion sportswomen such as Caster Semenya (athletics), Zanele Situ (para-athlete), Noni Tenge (boxing), Bongiwe Msomi and Phumla Maweni (both netball) exist. This demonstrates that black women can achieve global sports feats and honours.
South Africa’s sports administration is moving towards selection of teams and athletes who will produce world class feats and win continental and global titles. With this selection policy being favoured, we must ask what support is being given to black girls to attain high continental and world ranking and deliver world-class performances.
After athletes like Semenya, Tenge, Situ, Msomi and Maweni retire, where is the next generation coming from because, at this juncture, they are not surfacing from the junior ranks.
While being thrilled about the country’s amazing international sports achievements, we must also be concerned about the slow, almost lack of development of black sports girls from national to international representation. If black boys are achieving on the world sports terrain, then why are the black girls missing? African countries like Kenya have shown in athletics its girl and boy athletes can perform admirably in world sport.
With applause centred on sports exploits and achievements, we must be mindful and ask the critical questions about the missing black sports girls. It is remarkable easy to lose ourselves in pride and applause without questioning the gender imbalance. National sports federations must be questioned and asked about the development and advancement of talented girls and boys, especially talented black girls. We want to know where and how are they being protected and supported in the sports system, why are they falling through the cracks in the system?
If sport produces largely boy talent and champions without girl talent, then sport must be accused of especially neglecting black sports girls. Then we must respond, call them to attention, force them to arrest this imbalance and ask why the neglect of black sports girls.
It’s apparent that the country’s black sports girls are missing at international level. Seemingly, they are being neglected, being allowed to fall through the cracks without being caught and supported with assistance to further develop. We won’t rest until black sports girls are visible on international sports stages with achievements and triumphs like the boys.
Cheryl Roberts is a commentator on the social positioning of South African sport.