South Africa's basketball community

Unitards and Gold Medals….

By on October 6, 2008 in FanZone

Photo credit: Mark Dadswell/Getty Images

I wrote this piece on the eve of the Beijing Olympics.  The USA re-established their dominance as world leaders in basketball as both women and men’s teams won the ultimate athletic achievement, Olympic gold.  Asides from Mali’s butter fingered opposition to Lisa Leslie’s team USA in the women’s preliminaries, one of the most striking features of the competition were the unitards worn by team Australia.  How could any self-respecting women step out onto a basketball court with a wedgie??  After all basketball is one of those sports tied undeniably to the sub-culture of music, language, and clothing that marks the sport as an urban cultural phenomenon.  In South Africa we are no different in our expression of this sub-culture than our peers globally, but what really is the identity of women’s basketball in this country?

Let’s take a long hard stare in the mirror and identify the insecurities, the realities and the copycat fashion sense that could possibly explain the spectacular fall of SA women’s ball in the last decade.  Since the PBL folded into oblivion, the sport has generally experienced a significant decrease in national media attention, mass exodus of talented players and coaches, and shocking international performances.  Whilst BSA jostled with PBL owners for a moment in the sun, wheelchair basketball has experienced nothing short of a meteoric rise gaining critical sponsorship and support to compete (not just participate) on the world arena.  So if the PBL had nothing to do with us, why has women’s basketball been dragged through the mud?  I count one woman on the interim BSA executive, who I had truthfully never heard of until I attended a meeting at the Gauteng SASSU send-offs in June this year.  I count one women referee in Gauteng who has consistently officiated in national tournaments.  I count one woman coach who has dominated the national coaching position in the past 4 years (on those few occasions that we had a woman coaching a national team).  And I’m willing to bet good money that this situation is pretty similar at provincial level.  In June this year a voice rose up amongst the women raising critical questions about women’s leadership in SA basketball.  What are the criteria for coaches being chosen for the most coveted coaching job?  What are the criteria for players being selected for national duty?  Do we continue to be a sideshow to the men, or should we go it alone and establish a SA Women’s basketball federation?  Do men have a part to play in women’s basketball?  And if I was given half the chance I would have raised the question – do we ban unitards as a precautionary measure against the misguided quirks of future generations?  This is a critical conversation that is taking place within us, around us, about us that should propel us hopefully in the right direction if we could just stop talking all at once.  Let’s examine the facts:

Reality is – we compete with a growing opportunity set of sports that SA women can choose to participate in.  Netball has successfully established and maintained a professional league, Soccer and Rugby are growing in popularity amongst young women, and athletics already has a stranglehold on mass participation nationally.

We are not only competing for scarce financial and infrastructural support, we’re competing for better athletes.  Taller, faster, slimmer, and more self-aware individuals who have a hardened sense of the physical and mental discipline and dedication it takes to compete at an international level.

Most importantly we are also competing for fans, they love you, they hate you, they’re fickle at the worst of times, but they sure as hell can be a quick ticket to the big time!  And be honest – how often do you enjoy watching a women’s basketball game in SA?

What we need is nothing short of a basketball revolution.  How do we make more women WANT to play, coach, officiate, and manage basketball?  How do we transcribe this fantastic situation that our male counterparts have afforded us to take ownership of a very promising future?  How do we reinvent the SA basketball woman?  The ball is in your court as long as you leave the unitard in the changing room…..

Article written by K

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There Are 10 Brilliant Comments

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  1. Joe says:

    As a male, I might not be fully qualified to offer expert oponion on this matter, however, through my 10yrs in bball administration I have made the following observation and this are not only applicable to women basketball.

    Women basketball is currently being dominated by men because most women do not want to do the hard work, at the grassroots level. As I have said this sickness in not only applicable to women to bball generally. We all run to look at Province and National but fail to ask, how many women are involved at the district level? There no way as a Province or National body we can entrust women to coach at these level when they are not proven at the grassroots level, this lesson was well learnt GBA last year during the Engen U18 champs, when in inexperienced coach was selected to coach the GP team, to disastrous results.

    To demostrate my point, when EBA elected its executive last year, there was only one women in that meeting, although the invite was circulated as widely as possible. Even the one women refused to be elected into the committe mainly because she is involved in other sporting codes and was attended the meeting as a sport organiser in Tokoza. This trend of non participation by women has continued throughout the EBA League and meetings with some prominent vocal women invited, but not attending. Also, how many women are coaching or have volunteered to coach teams at school or district club level? This cannot be blamed on anyone, cause the guys who coach these teams do so cause women are not seeking to get involved at this level.

    This non-participation is not only evident administratively, but also on the playing side. At the beginning and throughout the EBA league, we invited girls teams to games, in most instances three girls was the average attendance. Even the ‘teams’ that attended were organised and coached by men.

    Personally, I refuse to believe that there are no women who have played bball previously and can contribute to the growth of bball. As I stated, there are such women that we have identified and have invited to participate, but to no avail.

    Therefore, like in male bball, women are sitting in some corners, constantly complaining about the state of women basketball but do nothing to address the situation. As far as I am concerned, women can either wait for a messiac administration that will truly understand and commit itself to women issues OR they can realise that the destiny of women basketball is women’s hands. Personally, I say the second option is the best one, as I believe there is enough women basketball brain power in SA, especially in Gauteng, to ensure that women’s baskektball agenda is prioritised.

    Earlier this year a Gauteng women basketball meeting was convened, I was very excited as to me this signalled that women were at long last taking the initiative. I was and still am disappointed that nothing came out of that meeting, even today I am still waiting to see the minutes of that meeting as I was hoping to contribute to the way forward. As always I am confident that GBA will be the proverbial scapegoat for the failure of this initiative to succeed and no one will question why the women failed to take GBA into task for its perceived fault. Also, no one will question who many of the women who attended that meeting are involved at district level?


    In terms of the one woman in BSA that you are referring to, if that woman Gezephi Mbata, then I am terribly disappointed. As most would confirm, she was the chair and organiser of USSASA basketball nationally. Therefore, she has been instrumental in ensuring that schools basketball continues to produce the kind of talent that most of the current players have come from, especially in Gauteng. In fact personal opinion is, besides Sbongile, no women in can claim to have better knowledge of basketball administration than Sis Gezi.

  2. Setlogelo says:

    The federation must be commended for their efforts to ensure that women basketball will be organised in the same way as men basketball as far as development is concerned. This strategy must have been motivated by the government’s open interest in the plight of women. This route has never benefitted basketball in terms of government support nor the envisaged growth.

    The writer views men’s basketball as more comfortable compared with women basketball. I tend to disagree with that statement and proclaim that the status is the same.

    It is improper to compare basketball with the other sporting codes. Nevertheless it would be great to learn a few things which are done in netball, rugby and soccer. There are some wonderful people at the region where I reside. These people believe in the mighty cause of their sporting code. They are in every place and position themselves in strategic positions which will benefit their sports. The interesting thing is, at least this side, these people work in groups. Thus they are well structured in their region. In addition they have one purpose in mind.

    This is contrary to the code of basketball. As has been discussed elsewhere on the website, basketball people tend to have opportunities for individual benefit. One recent example where the writer intervened was when an individual who attended BWB refused to let the other person to attend one coaching clinic in Durban. Acts such as these tend to chase people from the sport they want to contribute in. The people in the province also need to meet often, usually once a month and discuss a way forward for basketball. Indivivualism climb to the fore when there are no bureacracies to guide in a right direction.

    However the first commentary on this topic referred to the women who are not willing to participate and ensure the growth of women basketball. This is a general trend across the sporting codes except those dominated by women . The difference is that basketball people are not involved where it matter the most, at the foundation of the sport. No wonder the sport is at a precarious position, with the majority of people doing less to help the sport.

    Although the people at grass roots level should take the responsibility of the sports, those at the top echelons do not contribute their part. The people in strategic positions look up at the happenings of the organisation and their perceptions indicate that basketball is like a headless chicken. Mind you these people are not ascribed to the theoretical views of the sport neither do they believe the philosophies surrounding the game. They are not inclined to protect the sport in any way. Thus it is critical for the federation to get their structure in order. Such action will result in the positive image for the sport commercially and in government.

    This does not mean that we should look up to the federation. Whilst we motivate them to get their house in order we need to increase our efforts for the spade work.

    Fortunately four women will be involved with the local structure in our region. We just need to help them fulfill their duties in an excellent manner.

    The conditions of men and women basketball can never be separated. For us it is a marriage under the chemistry behind the super glue. We need to stick together and organise basketball in a way that it will benefit the general population.

    However men basketball will continue to be a step ahead of the women, unless women get involved. As far as I know the professional body was only for men. The unsuccessful proposals for the national league were only for men. One tournament for women in November is organised by a man.

    Nevertheless if men’s attempts to improve basketball advance at a slow pace, what shall the women do?

    Perahps Margaret Thatcher’s words might apply. They are ” If you want something said, as a man…if you want something done, ask a woman.

  3. Victor says:

    When I first read this article, I was trying to figure out what Unitards were so I looked it up on the net.

    Anyway maybe the Australians forgot to bring their basketball gear and borrowed some gear from the cycling team, :).

    I feel that Women ball is swept under the carpet but things change so let’s make it happen. There are a lot of girls that are very good but never get the opportunity to develop properly.

    Ciao, V

  4. kim says:

    Women basketball is a simple complicated story.Women dont want to be involved and those who are involved are marginalised and those who wanna play are disrespected………damn.I hope women like sibo can take the bull by the horns and start coaching and stop this weak story of they like being managers.I for one would give up my seat as SA coach for Sibo or any deserving women.

    What we should not do is set them up for failure like what happened when the senior team went to Zim for the Zone 6 qualifiers.That team was doomed before it even left to Zim.We must create a conducive environment for them to succed.

  5. willie says:

    i have had alot of discussions with people around this issue. you will be suprised at how many women prefer to be coached by men. when i first discovered that i thought well, its not serious. the problem is that almost all women playing basketball have been coached by men since an early age and therefore believe that men are better than women coaches. to me that is not exactly the case.

    what we need to start looking at is for these women to be involved in grass-roots development. that in turn will inspire the coming generation to believe in their capabilities as women at coaching level. just look around us and you’ll see that we have so many talented women in bball but most if not all don’t want to be coaches. as Kim says, they prefer being secretaries and team managers.

    for me, BSA should force all the provincial federations to always appoint women to their coaching staff and ensure that its not always one woman for all the teams. at the same breath, BSA should appoint women coaches at junior teams for them to gain experience. honestly, there are so many women with more experience in bball than me and most of us. what we need to do is give them a chance to coach in a very supportive environment.

  6. K says:

    my feeling – women’s basketball is not going to succeed until the women step up. The guys have given us plenty of airtime, no doubt. i’d love to be coached by a woman any day of the week as long as:

    1. she doesn’t verbally abuse me or my teammates by calling us sluts/whores, insulting our families etc (this is something i have experienced first hand at a very high level and is very ugly in any coach – man or woman) – loyalty and respect for the dignity of your players are very important traits in a coach.
    2. she knows what she’s talking about or at the very least makes an effort to surround herself with the best support.
    3. She’s been SELECTED (i.e. recognised) and played the game at the very least at an interprovincial level (U18/student/seniors). OR
    4. She has a fantastic record as a coach.

    I think there are plenty of women like that, I’d like to see them step up. Personally, I’m just about ready to dust off my coaching board again now that there will be a D2 in GP next year.

    LOP finals – we were sidelined to play before the Men’s D2 game. That was wack! But then again, it wasn’t nearly as exciting a final as the D2 game. Situation?….

  7. kim says:

    Verbally abuse of ladies players in my opinion is because those coaches dont know what there are talking about.It doesnt matter whether there are male or female coaches.LOP women finals being played before a D2 game is wack no BUTS.You cant tell me organise are able to predict whether one final is going to be more exciting than the other.I honestly believe than women have a major role to play in the development of women but currently Men are holding the chips and they should also ensure that women are pushed higher on the agenda so as to ensure women development.

    LOP Final is but an example.K,point number 2 is VERY VERY important and hence I feel that the senior team did badly,or let me say,didnt perform at the level that we know they can.As a coach I would try surround myself with very equiped people and in some cases might know more than me in a specific field and then I promise you,in more cases than not you will succed as a team.Boston Celtics has one of the best defensive coaches and he is the reason the Celtics did soo well.

    Thats why UJ ladies were able to get over that final hump and thats why I think UP has been able to dominate for all these years.Its the people that are surround the coach….

  8. Joe says:

    As pointed out in my comments on the LOP finals, in South African sport transformation supercedes market forces. Therefore, we cannot argue that the ladies final was less important because it was potentially not exciting.

  9. kim says:


  10. K says:

    and it’s pure speculation on my part to suggest that LOP finals were scheduled on that basis. I’m just pointing out that as much as we need upliftment, we also need to step up. sometimes that means admitting that sport is a lot more than just the players, and the coaches, and the refs, and the admin. who is ultimately responsible to have women’s basketball well positioned?

    Personally my dream is to see a woman’s final on a separate day to a men’s final, with the stands overflowing. we’re not aiming to be the warm up match, we want to be the main event!