THE LIONESSES STRONGER THEN EVER
Women’s football in South Africa has come along in leaps and bounds to the dedication of a handful of brave and tenacious women. Meet three personalities who are making their mark on South African football – and society.
With the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany TM now placed firmly in the “legacy created” category, focus has now shifted strongly to South Africa and its preparations for 2010. This event will give the country a chance to open up to the world its amazing array of beauty that has often been somewhat overshadowed by a difficult and turbulent past. It would be a shame, however, to fail to recognize the progress the game has already made in bringing people together in this land of extremes – in particular, in the areas that may miss the glare of the spotlight when the FIFA World Cup TM comes to town.
One such area is women’s football, where unbelievably strong and capable women have braved death threats and actual attempts on their lives in order to take the game to a level that is making even the most advanced women’s football nations sit up and take notice.
Fran Hilton-Smith, who is currently a coach educator for the South African Football Association (SAFA) and former coach of the South African national women’s team, is one of the most highly recognized sports figures in South Africa. It is well known that Fran can walk through the most dangerous parts of Soweto without fear of being touched – such is the respect for her achievements in football, which is the biggest sport in South Africa
Hilton-Smith’s first involvement with the game was as a player when women’s football first started in 1960s under the umbrella of the South African Women’s Football Association (SAWFA), at that time governmental policy prevented interracial mixing within teams, so Fran played in separate leagues with other white women. While she was selected for national representative teams that were chosen from tournaments held between these regions, Hilton-Smith never had the chance to play internationally due to the bin imposed on South Africa by FIFA, which lasted 20 years.
In the 1980s, however, mixed-race women from Cape Town region started to join the ranks of women’s football. Hilton-Smith explains, “While apartheid was still in full swing, most didn’t see the mixed-race women as black, and their inclusion in women’s football teams was left unhindered. Shortly afterwards, a few black women started playing, and they too were allowed to continue without too much impediment, even though men were thrown into prison if they attempted something similar.”