Olympics a pathway to success for South Africa’s women’s football
South Africa’s participation in the Olympics has shaped the attitude towards women’s football in the country and opened doors for talented female players.
South Africa's women's team, nicknamed Banyana Banyana, play Sweden in the first event of the Rio Games as the football tournament kicks off two days before Friday's opening ceremony.
For South Africa, it is a second successive appearance at the Olympics, which for women is played at full international level and marks another step in the progress of the game. But it has been no easy road. The women's game in Africa continues to struggle for acceptance.
"It's not something that brings in any income, it doesn't attract big sponsors, it's a costly exercise and, especially in Africa to travel to play international matches is outrageously expensive," Fran Hilton Smith, the head of women's football at the South African Football Association, said. It's difficult for African women's teams to compete. It really, really is.”
Traditional societal attitudes have discouraged women from playing and even when those attitudes softened, there were other obstacles, she said.
"It's been a struggle over time. It's still tough to change attitudes,” said Hilton Smith.
“Parents did not want girls to play football because there was no future in the game. But now they have the chance to get scholarships to university and after these Games I'm sure a lot of this team are going to be snapped up by professional teams in Europe and the USA.”
South Africa have yet to qualify for a Women's World Cup. After competing at the London Games four years ago there was an upturn for the image of the women's game. Hilton Smith says she expects the same after Rio."Our women's football has grown in leaps and bounds because of the profile created by the last Olympics. We are absolutely convinced Rio will do the same."