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Giving Girls Goals; Soweto’s Soccer Coaching Clinic

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A recent soccer clinic in Soweto had former Liverpool F.C. player John Barnes coaching young girls to become the future stars of Africa.

It’s high noon but the skies are overcast in Soweto on this Wednesday afternoon in October. It is business as usual in this urban Johannesburg township but as we approach Meadowlands, it starts to drizzle.

But rain or shine, at the Fiat Sports Centre here, a group of over 40 girls aged between 12 and 14 are oblivious to everything around them. Their eyes are trained on the ball as they make the most of the day out on the field with visiting retired Jamaican-born professional footballer John Barnes.

It’s a soccer coaching clinic with the star and the girls are wearing big smiles and bright red outfits.

The well-maintained field is separated into rectangles so the groups are smaller and easier to manage. Each section has a coach, balls and marking cones for the different skill-building tasks planned for the day.

Barnes pays close attention to the teams, occasionally offering advice to both the coaches and players.

“It is about empowering young girls and making them feel confident about expressing themselves. It is about making them feel confident that there are no barriers that stop them from achieving their goals,” he says.

The former Liverpool Football Club player and English Football Hall of Fame inductee has been playing football for as long as he can remember., so he only knows too well the preoccupations of these young minds.

He moved to England at the age of 12, and joined the professional ranks at 17 when he signed for Watford in 1981. Barnes later moved to Liverpool F.C. in his early 20s where he played for a decade.

Today, in Soweto, he motivates the girls on the field, goading them on to perform better than boys.

“You have to separate football when you talk about it in South Africa, into men’s football and women’s football. Men’s football is really well-advanced, they have huge support, lots of money, great players, but women’s football is just starting out. It is pleasing to see that young girls are now given an opportunity because young girls in Africa are told that they do not play football but they actually do,” says Barnes.

John Barnes. Photo By Gypseenia Lion

The girls receive coaching as part of the Goal global community initiative by Standard Chartered Bank. In South Africa, the program was launched in Tshwane in April 2015 and has since reached over 6,000 girls. The target for 2018 is just over 3,000 girls between Tshwane and Soweto.

In partnership with Altus Sport, an NGO developing youth and sport, the 2018 Soweto program includes this special interaction with Barnes.

Former Banyana Banyana player, Thando Dlamini, started coaching at the clinic this year. She says some of the girls lack discipline, and stresses how support from family members and the community can go a long way to help.

“You hardly see any of the parents coming to support the girls. I think if they came to the games and watch the girls, they will realize it is not about the misconceptions. The behavior has changed in some of the girls I worked with. Soccer teaches you discipline,” says Dlamini.

The star of the day at the soccer clinic, Mosima Magome, a Grade 8 student, agrees. She says she has been feeling more confident since starting soccer.

“People would always tease me because I am the shortest in class,” she says. The teenager looks up to global icon, Lionel Messi, because “he never quits, even when he misses a goal”.

Commenting on the general lack of interest in skills-building programs, Altus Sport’s Operations Manager Samantha Pennells says local professional sportsmen should give back to the community as well.

“You got a guy from Liverpool, like John Barnes. He is here in the community; it is not his community but he is here giving advice, giving tips. It was not just about sport, it was about life,” she says.

South African football veteran Steve Sekano, a guest at the soccer clinic, and Barnes share jokes on the sidelines.

The former Moroka Swallows Football Club midfielder runs a foundation within the community that aims to get the youth involved in sport. With hopes that sport will keep them out of trouble, Sekano advocates the need for more facilities in the area. He says that as a former professional, it is his duty to give back.

“People ask me why soccer is not the same as when you guys played. I say it is the same. But when you talk about soccer today, you talk about money. Because our players are earning a lot of money today. Those days, we were not earning a lot of money, we were committed. But our players need to up their game; our game must grow,” says Sekano.

For Geraldine Matchaba, Head of Corporate Affairs, Brand & Marketing, South Africa and Southern Africa, at Standard Chartered Bank, the corporate world too has a responsibility to prioritize community-based issues. “Those are people who are your future employees, they are your clients and they are future leaders. You have to play a role. It is what we are doing with the Goal program,” she says.

Thoko Phakati, Sports Field Manager, is in charge of operations at the Fiat Sports Centre. The space that used to be a dumping site is now accessible to the community free of charge.

“We believe they also deserve a chance, why is it that only places like the Wanderers Stadium are supposed to look beautiful? So we are doing as much as we can here to give kids a chance. We have people like Steve Sekano who grew up here and became successful but if he were to tell you his story, you will find that he also had challenges growing up,” she says.

Soweto truly is the home of South African football, and the young girls here prove they too can chase a ball for 90 minutes. There is a long conversation to be had about policies that prioritize men over women in sport, but in the meantime, programs such as Goal and footballers like Barnes continue to make sure that new stars are born on the muddy fields of Soweto.

 

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Caster Semenya Releases List Of Experts For Battle With IAAF At CAS

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Caster Semenya has released a list of experts she will call in her appeal hearing at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) this week in her fight against regulations aimed at lowering the testosterone levels of hyperandrogenic athletes like her.

The South African 800-metres double Olympic champion on Monday expressed her disappointment after the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) revealed the names of their five witnesses for the proceedings in Lausserne.

She called it a breach of confidentiality rules ahead of a five-day appeal that could have far reaching consequences for sport. The IAAF deny any wrong-doing.

She will call on a range of experts from various fields, and used the announcement of their names, through her lawyers, to reiterate her stance on the IAAF’s proposed regulations.

READ MORE | ‘From Zero to Hero’: The Queen Of The 800 meters Caster Semenya

“The IAAF regulations do not empower anyone,” the statement said. “Rather, they represent yet another flawed and hurtful attempt to police the sex of female athletes.

“Ms Semenya’s courage and perseverance in her fight to run free is an inspiration to young athletes in her home country of South Africa and around the globe.”

The IAAF regulations stipulate that women with elevated testosterone take medication to reduce their level before being allowed to compete, but only in the middle-distance events of between 400- and 1500-metres where it is claimed the advantage is most felt.

IAAF President Sebastian Coe told reporters on Monday that the regulations are aimed at leveling the field between hyperandrogenic athletes and those with normal levels of testosterone.

The IAAF’s previous attempts to regulate testosterone in female athletes fell foul of a CAS ruling in 2015 following an appeal on behalf of Indian Dutee Chand, who had been banned from competing because of her high levels.

CAS claimed in their judgment that the IAAF had not provided sufficient evidence that hyperandrogenic athletes gained a significant advantage due to their testosterone count.

A verdict could take up to a month, according to CAS.

The experts who will testify in support of Semenya are listed as:

  • Prof Veronica Gomez-Lobo, Obstetrics and Gynecology at Georgetown University and the Director of the DSD (Differences of Sexual Development) Clinic at the Children’s National Health System in Washington‚ DC.
  • Dr Alun Williams, Director of the Sports Genomics Laboratory at Manchester Metropolitan University.
  • Professor Eric Vilain, specialist in gender-based and endocrine genetics‚ including DSD, who has consulted to the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
  • Professor Roger Pielke Jr, director of the Sports Governance Center at the University of Colorado.
  • Professor Dankmar Böhning, Chair in Medical Statistics at the University of Southampton.
  • Professor Richard Holt, expert in Diabetes and Endocrinology at the University of Southampton.
  • Professor Anthony C Hackney, University of North Carolina‚ with joint appointments in the Department of Exercise and Sport Science and the Department of Nutrition School of Public Health.

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  • Dr Lih-Mei Liao, clinical and health psychologist in the United Kingdom who has worked extensively with women diagnosed with a range of DSD conditions.
  • Dr Payoshni Mitra, teaches Sport Sociology at Birkbeck College‚ University of London and works closely with athletes with hyperandrogenism and DSD from the Southern Hemisphere.
  • Ashley LaBrie‚ Executive Director of AthletesCAN‚ an independent organization that represents the interests of all national team athletes in Canada. –Reuters

-Nick Said

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Thembi Kgatlana’s Long And Hard Road to Houghston

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Thembi Kgatlana’s goal was to make a living playing abroad. She is now proving to be a star of not just South African football but also the African game.

As South African forward Thembi Kgatlana crashed home a volley in the closing minutes of their African Women’s Championship match against nemesis Nigeria, she wheeled away in celebration, accepting the passionate thanks of her teammates.

Kgatlana had sealed just a second victory for South Africa over their old foes in 25 years of trying and for her, it capped a remarkable 2018 that has seen her thrust onto the global stage and into the best women’s football league in the world.

The goal provided all you need to know about the Leratong hospital-born footballer – the awareness to make the run, the speed to get away from the defender, the confidence to take on the shot and the technique to finish past the goalkeeper.

Kgatlana must be one of the quickest players in women’s football, but she has been eager to show in the last 12 months that her game is about much more than pace and she has certainly developed quickly after a first year spent at Houston Dash in the National Women’s Soccer League in the United States (US).

She was there with national teammates Janine van Wyk and Linda Motlhalo in 2018, and will return with the latter in 2019 having had her professional contract that she worked so hard to earn, renewed for another season.

She had hoped to move abroad after the 2016 Olympic Games, where she represented South Africa, but it took a further 18 months for a club to finally take a punt on her talent.

“The wait has been worth it,” Kgatlana tells FORBES WOMAN AFRICA with a broad smile, adding her debut for Dash was unforgettable despite a 3-0 loss.

“It was a moment I had always dreamed of, that I had waited for so long for and made so many sacrifices for. I’ll cherish it for the rest of my life.”

She says her goal has always been to play abroad and make a living out of football. The South African domestic scene is still amateur and cannot provide that support.

“It’s a dream I have been working towards for the whole of my life, since I started playing as an eight year old, working my way through the junior national teams, then to the senior national team. It’s been a long and a hard road, but I’m here now,” Kgatlana says.

She admits her first year in the US was an eye-opener in terms of the level of football and the commitment players put into the game.

“You really have to work hard, everyone is professional and most have been playing at this level for quite a while. They have the experience.

“It’s all about learning and adapting quickly. In life, you face challenges and it’s up to you what you do with those.

“I had to drop out of school [University of the Western Cape] in my final year to wear a professional jersey and to be in the fold to win a contract with a big club.

“I hope it motivates a lot of girls back home to show that anything is possible and dreams do come true.”

The 22-year-old made 16 appearances in her first season with Dash, scoring two goals but also providing a number of assists.

She was used a lot as an impact player off the bench, her extreme pace allowing her to glide past weary defenders in the closing stages of matches. She will want to turn those into more starts in 2019, but also understands her role within the side.

It is also something she has taken on with the national side, known as Banyana Banyana, where she has been an integral part of the set-up for some time, and was named Player of the Tournament when the team lifted the COSAFA Women’s Championship in 2016.

While one player’s career can never be defined by a single goal, Kgatlana has managed to write her name into the history books of Banyana with what is one of the more famous strikes against a Nigerian side that has been the number one team in Africa for many years.

“It was the most amazing feeling ever, because I knew that if I let it bounce a second time, I might not get the chance,” Kgatlana says.

“It’s either I hit it and I see what happens, or I don’t hit it. The adrenaline was rushing, because every time I get into the box, I’m still deciding. But at the moment, when the ball bounced, it was now or never.”

Kgatlana has announced herself as a genuine star of not just South African football but also the African game and her challenge in the coming years will be to kick-on and continue to improve.

She certainly has the drive, passion and the skill to do so, and her development into potential global icon over the next few years will be fascinating to watch.

  • Nick Said

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Egypt to host 2019 African Nations Cup

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Egypt will host the 2019 African Nations Cup finals, the Confederation of African Football confirmed after a meeting of their executive committee in Dakar on Tuesday.

They will stage the expanded 24-team event in June-July after initial hosts Cameroon were stripped of the tournament last month over concerns at the slow pace of preparations.

The North African nation will host the competition for the fourth time, and the first since 2006, after the announcement was made by CAF president Ahmad at a media briefing in the Senegalese capital.

Egypt and South Africa were the only two countries to put forward their candidacies to replace Cameroon.

It will be the first time there will be 24 teams at the tournament and CAF, after several inspection visits over the last two years, said Cameroon would not be ready in time.

Egypt has extensive football facilities, although in recent years attendances at local matches have been restricted because of security concerns following the Arab Spring revolution and Tahrir Square demonstrations in 2011.

The final round of qualifiers for the tournament will be held in March, with 14 nations, including Egypt, having already sealed their place at the finals. -Reuters

Nick Said

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