Motsepe Foundation Supports Women in Sport and Their Equality

by Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe, Co-Founder and CEO of Motsepe Foundation

What an exciting time the last few weeks have been for women’s sports, with the football and netball world cups showcasing the quality of women’s sport in remarkable ways.

I want to applaud Banyana Banyana and the Proteas for their excellent performances. They have demonstrated commitment, passion and teamwork, and they show us what is possible if we work together.

I also want to congratulate our national and provincial governments for their commitment to developing women’s sport in SA and for moving towards equal pay for male and female athletes.

It is astonishing, and encouraging, to think that the women’s World Cup is expected to be watched by about 2 billion people, and that the value of women’s sport, excluding events like the Olympics where both men and women compete, is now estimated at more than a billion dollars, and is expected to keep growing.

Now is the time to harness the momentum and ensure we achieve equality for women in sport, something which matters for so many reasons.

Let me try to do justice to a few important ones.

Firstly, gender equality is a basic ethical imperative and one of the sustainable development goals. We cannot speak of equality and neglect active measures to ensure girls and women can participate with equal opportunity in sport.

Secondly, so much research, as well as the stories of countless successful women, emphasizes the importance of female role models in leadership, in business, and in sports. It makes such a difference for a young girl to see a successful female athlete, to hear her speak of her own journey, the commitment and the obstacles that had to be overcome. It alters what she thinks is possible for herself.

We should not underestimate the internal bias that many girls and women still carry, and we should not underestimate the power of sport to remove these biases and allow girls and women to live fully realized lives. And, when that happens, it has a positive impact not only on them, but on their families, their communities and on entire societies, including men.

A third compelling reason for supporting women’s sports actively at this point in history is because it’s very exciting! We are seeing talented, committed athletes robustly compete against each other, and this is only going to get more exciting as women’s sports grows and participation deepens.

And finally, let’s not forget the physical and mental health benefits of participating in sports. We still find that men are more likely to be actively involved in many sports.

Crucially, the reasons women do less are things we can fix: it may be insecurity, it may be not being able to get to a sports venue safely, it may be a lack of transport.

These are things government is trying to address, but we can all do more. Certainly, there is also scope for entrepreneurial innovation, in women-oriented gyms and exercise options in townships, for example, and I encourage our creative businesspeople to come up with solutions here.

We need to establish a kind of virtuous circle, where there’s support from both public and private sector for women’s sports, which increases coverage of it, which raises interest and participation and thus attracts sponsors, which then helps close the pay gap and other sports inequalities.

As with any virtuous circle, in the initial phase we need partnerships between private sector, public sector and philanthropy, united by common goals.

Governments need to actively support young girls’ sports participation. We need grassroots support, we need more money going to girls soccer, netball, tennis, track and field. We also need more active support for female coaches and we need far better representation of women in the leadership structures of our sports federations and associations, in South Africa as well as in sports-focused multilaterals.

What we need from the private sector is twofold: we initially need expanded support for woman’s sport that is developmental in focus, and that is recognized as an important component of CSI spend.

But there is also a compelling investment argument in women’s sports, and I encourage private investors to take a long-term view and get in now. With appropriate support, women’s sports is set to become a high growth and high return area. We are seeing the beginnings of this, in more media coverage, more sponsorship and the like, but I suspect it is only the beginning.

Ultimately, it is also about what we, the public, value. The more we watch and actively support women’s sport, the more attractive the sponsorship proposition becomes, and the closer we get to the virtuous circle we need.

At the Motsepe foundation we have been very proud to support sports at various levels for many years; we have sponsored the Kay Motsepe Netball Championships for many years now and I am happy to confirm we will be doubling our sponsorship contribution in this area.

I am also proud to confirm that our new primary school football championships will include girls: we have to start early, and we have to start decisively, and then we need to keep the momentum going.

What I have valued from our sports teams is their passion and their team work, and the harnessing of different skills and attitudes towards one purpose.

In women’s month, we can and must do likewise, and bring equality to sport as part of the journey to gender equality in all areas.