South Africa’s women’s football team will receive a hero’s welcome this week for their World Cup exploits, but if they are to reach their full potential they will need more support and a professional domestic league to play in, coach Desiree Ellis has said.
The team exceeded expectations by getting past the first round in Australia and New Zealand, their journey ending in the last 16 in Sydney on Sunday in a 2-0 defeat to the Netherlands.
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After losing all three games in their first World Cup in France four years ago, Banyana Banyana looked a much-improved outfit as they almost held heavily fancied Sweden to draw, led against Argentina and then scored a dramatic last-gasp winner to edge out Italy for a place in the knockout stages.
But if they are to do better next time, Ellis insists that clubs in the country must turn professional to keep up with the countries at the top of the world game.
Companies had a responsibility to invest in the women’s game, she said.
“To the sponsors. I don’t know how you can ignore something special like this,” Ellis said of her team’s tournament run.
“I don’t know how you cannot assist in getting us to climb the ladder, and not assist in getting us to be better. We still have players who have a 9-5 job, and then have to go train in the evening.
“I think that is unacceptable … I think the corporate world needs to stand up and, and really take notice. Otherwise, we will come back in four years’ time and go through the same thing … we could have gone further.
She said South Africa could win the World Cup with more support and urged the government to help sponsors come on board.
“It’s not just our senior team, it’s our youth teams as well – there’s no sponsors.”
As well as the Women’s World Cup headlines, success in T20 cricket and hosting the Netball World Cup have boosted the profile of women’s sport in South Africa.
But the build-up for the footballers was marred by a strike over money that Ellis said could have been avoided.
It proved an embarrassment for the South African Football Association, which is bidding to host the next Women’s World Cup and was only settled when billionaire Patrice Motsepe, the Confederation of African Football president, made a donation to the team.
In the end, the dispute proved no deterrent as South Africa broke new ground.
“I think as a group, we need to hold our heads up high. When we qualified for the last 16, the whole country went crazy and I’m expecting them to go crazy when we get back,” added Ellis.