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Banyana Banyana glory focuses attention on women’s sport

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Spectators went crazy cheering the Banyana Banyana players during their lap of honour after their 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup Round of 16 match against the Netherlands at Sydney’s Allianz Stadium on 6 August, according to South African Jocelyn Kuper, who attended the game.

“Given that it’s Women’s Month, I hope a lot more South Africans see women’s football and women’s sport for the passion, togetherness, and celebration that it brings to South Africa,” says Erin Herz, who appears to be the first Jewish woman to play for Banyana Banyana. “I’m really hoping it’s going to have a huge impact on the overall outlook of women’s sport in South Africa. Banyana Banyana definitely stands out as one of our most successful national teams.”

Although Banyana Banyana lost 2-0 to the Netherlands and thus exited the tournament, they were the first South African team – including men and women – to qualify for the Round of 16.

Banyana Banyana, ranked 54th in the world, conceded a 90th-minute goal in their first group-stage match to lose 2-1 against third-ranked Sweden. They went on to draw 2-2 with 28th-ranked Argentina before beating 16th-ranked Italy 3-2 to secure their first Women’s World Cup victory. Banyana Banyana also scored six goals, five more than they managed during their debut World Cup campaign four years ago.

Herz, who played for Banyana Banyana during the team’s COSAFA (Council of Southern Africa Football Associations) Cup campaign last year, says the team’s “desire to be the best” started during their victorious Women’s Africa Cup of Nations campaign last year.

“The World Cup being a bigger stage, that same desire came through to succeed,” she says. “Though many would have thought that they would be underdogs, they have shown they can put up a good fight and actually beat some of the best in the world.”

Herz says that while she was in the squad, the team was “serious, focused, and switched on” in its preparations for the World Cup. “There was nothing that would stand in the way of improvement. Anything that might be a distraction or hindrance was just not even in mind.”

South African Jewish educator and clinical psychologist Adina Roth, who now lives in Sydney and attended Banyana Banyana’s Round of 16 game, says, “In a sea of 40 000 people, there was some orange to support the Netherlands, but the vast majority were South Africans who live in Sydney and who brought out their South African gees to support Banyana Banyana. It was an incredible match.

“Although the Netherlands team were well prepared and meticulous, there was still some incredible play from the Banyana Banyana side and some moments where the teams were evenly matched. Banyana Banyana played their hearts out.”

Kuper, who headed up a marketing and media research company in South Africa, now lives in England and was in Australia to visit her son, business leader Dr Andy Kuper.

“The match started with Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, which brought goosebumps for me and my son,” Kuper says. “We left the stadium pleased for our team, which had done well and had handled itself well in defeat. It was great to feel so attached to South Africa and its soccer passion on a chilly Sydney evening.”

Veteran South African football administrator Raymond Hack says the Banyana Banyana players did “fantastically” in this year’s showpiece, and attributes their success to their hand work and “the belief that the team’s sponsor, Sasol, had in them”.

“I know this because I negotiated the sponsor with then South African Football Association President Molefi Oliphant in 2006 and 2008. Finance for the players and organisation of the team is done through Sasol. Because it’s a stable environment, they succeed.”

Hack has been closely watching the World Cup. “Banyana Banyana play a different brand of football. They’re an attacking team.” He says the African teams have done phenomenally well. “The standard has improved so much that people don’t realise how good it is,” Hack says.

Zambia recorded their first FIFA Women’s World Cup victory with a 3-1 win against Costa Rica in the group stages.

Nigeria beat hosts Australia and drew with Olympic champions Canada in their group, before taking England all the way to penalties in the Super Falcons’ Round of 16 loss on 7 August.

After losing 6-0 to Germany, Morrocco beat South Korea and Columbia to book a Round of 16 encounter against France on 8 August.

The squads selected by Morocco, Zambia, and South Africa had many players who play for clubs in their respective countries. “The emergence of African footballers is going to be evident in the next four years,” Hack says. They are a lot stronger, quicker, and more technically advanced. More of them will get to play for clubs in Europe.”

Says Roth, “What makes it so poignant is that each woman in the South African team has a story to tell, a profound and inspiring back story as to how she came to play for our national soccer team.”

Each Banyana Banyana player will receive US$60 000 (R1.1m) from FIFA for reaching the Round of 16. Banyana Banyana goalkeeper Kaylin Swart, who has a nine-to-five job, said “this is life-changing for us”, while Banyana Banyana attacking star Hildah “Breadwinner” Magaia said the payment would help her provide for her family.

Hack says women’s football has come a long way in general in the past four years, “when it was all about the United States and Europe. Don’t write off Japan – who take on Sweden in the quarters on 11 August – to win the World Cup. I made this prediction eight or 10 years ago because they’ve got the ability and infrastructure.”

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