By: JESSICA EVANS & TUMELO THAMAGA
Despite finishing second in the B Division of the University Sports South Africa (USSA) Soccer tournament, 19th out of 29 teams, the Rhodes University women’s soccer team, the Trojans, has raised concerns about its treatment this year. The team managed to collect their silver medals, despite only having eleven players available for the tournament.
Trojans captain, Nadene Kupemba expressed the team’s concerns that they were being treated unequally to the men’s team by Rhodes University Sports Administration, and that their fitness and skills have not improved owing to the consistent absence of their coach, and of support from sports administration. “We try and file complaints, some are met with disdain or indifference so we really do not have the power to do anything but wait for action from those who can implement,” said Kupemba.
The team’s strife continued at USSA. “We had to basically go through the tournament by ourselves,” explained Kupemba. The trojans went to USSA this year with only 11 players – no substitutes. They returned having come second in the B-pool, to no recognition. “Winning second place at USSA with just 11 women has just proven to the university that females in sport do matter,” said Kupemba. “It really disappoints me to see this happening in such a progressive university.”
Sanelisiwe Sobahle, a Sports Officer at Rhodes University Sports Administration, claims that the Trojans are victims, as is the golf team and other sports teams, of a lack of coverage on behalf of the Rhodes University Communications division. “Communication – that’s their job and designated people do so [publicise Rhodes sport]”. She said that the publicity issue is owing to a lack of a publicity portfolio in the department. “There should be someone here that is designated to be collecting the content and sending it off to Communications,” said Sobahle.
Kupemba claims that the alleged biased in favour of the men’s teams has been an ongoing problem for the Trojans. “The inequality has gone on at Rhodes ever since I started playing which was in first year in 2014. Men would get newer kit while their hand-me downs would be given to us. Their matches were prioritized more than ours. The support they received from sports administration was more than us. These are ongoing problems with male and female sports in general and we still have a long way to go for improvements.”
“It’s also understanding the sponsorship side of the ball,” explained Sobahle. “Unfortunately in terms of support, spectators watching female football, there are none.”
Vice-captain, Nolwandle Mwelase, also expressed her disapproval at the team’s treatment this season. “Rhodes women football is treated as if it doesn’t exist. No-one recognises us, we must beg most of the time for certain things.”
Kupemba explained that team morale is low because of the constant mistreatment. “As a team we have tried to not let it affect us, but in some way it does. Some females have refused to come back due to the treatment from some of our coaches, morale is usually low because we feel under-appreciated when we actually do succeed while the males do the bare-minimum and receive praise. There is only so much one can take without eventually feeling demotivated.”
This far, the team has had to deal with their concerns by themselves, claims Kupemba. “We just try to sort problems out ourselves and be forceful about finding what works for us.” She describes her ideal situation for the Trojans: “The team is supported in every step of the way; we are celebrated for the good representation of the school; awards are given for our work and at award ceremonies we have staff going down with us to show that we have staff and crew that help us and support us.”
For Kupemba, the worst is the loss of strong potential players. “You can see the talent and the passion that these women have. They want to play, they want to fight, they want to win. However, like anyone in this world you need a good support system to mold these players with potential. It hurts me to think some of these women will not play due to lack of preparation and support from their own sports administration.”