CAPE TOWN – South Africa’s national squad netballers should be household names in a country whose people sell themselves as sporting fanatics.
Equally, Banyana Banyana and the national women’s cricket team.
The focus on South African sport, traditionally, has been on the men.
This is changing. But it needs to change even more and the change has to be permanent.
I’ve seriously enjoyed the Proteas Netball World Cup campaign. These wonderful athletes have done their talent justice in making the semi-finals for the first time in 24 years. They will play one of Australia or New Zealand tomorrow. Tune in to the occasion as you would a rugby, cricket or soccer play-off involving the Springboks, Proteas or Bafana Bafana.
Already, corporate South Africa is starting to respond to the achievements. Telkom, the sponsor of South Africa’s national netball league, has promised each player R1million if the Proteas win a first ever world championship.
If the Proteas make it to the final and finish second then each player will get R500000. The Proteas’s long time title sponsor Spar committed R1m to the squad to share in the event of a gold, R750000 for a silver and R500000 for a bronze. It is small change when compared to the country’s big three but it is big in the context of netball in South Africa.
Spar has been the one corporate who has always stood by netball, even when the national squad had slipped to sixth in the world. Now they are comfortably back in the top four and on par with the big three of Australia, England and New Zealand.
Australia’s Norma Plummer has been a huge influence as national coach. Plummer won two World Cups with Australia and is recognised as among the best in the sport. South Africa has improved radically since her appointment.
Equally, the standard of play has improved since several of the Proteas squad turned their passion into a profession by playing in the overseas professional club leagues.
Proteas captain Bongiwe Msomi is a brilliant leader on the court and an inspiration off it. She is an ambassador for the Girls Only Project which aims to create a more equal sporting landscape for women within South Africa and across the African continent by focusing on research, workshops and advocacy for women and girls in sport.
She has played professionally in England and Australia and has been at the forefront of everything Proteas in the last four years. She has been colossal at the World Cup. So too Lenize Potgieter, Maryka Holtzhausen, Peace Proscovia and Stella Oyella, who all are shooting at 90% plus.
These are some of the squad athletes whose excellence in the past week has dared us sporting fans in South Africa to dream of World Cup glory. If they have allowed us to dream, then corporate South Africa and the South African government must allow them to dream that their sport will get the acknowledgement it deserves.
There has to be investment in a professional South African league that can challenge the best of those in Australia and England.
Cape Town will be the host city for the Netball World Cup in 2023. It is the first time Netball’s most prestigious event will be held on the African continent. The tournament is expected to attract 120 000 visitors to Cape Town, with the projections of a R2.5 billion injection to the country’s economy.
How amazing wouldn’t it be if South Africa were to play 2023 hosts as the defending world champions?
Mark Keohane is an award-winning sports journalist and the head of sport at Independent Media