With the all-important FIFA Women's World Cup™ just around the corner, the South African women's national side, affectionately referred to as Banyana Banyana, are smack-bang in the middle of intense preparations for the marquee event.
The tournament, which kicks off on Friday, 7 June, will see the ladies in action the very next day against powerhouse Spain, in what should be an acid test for this young but exciting team.
The ripple effect that this event will have on women's football across the country should not be underestimated and the benefits and advantages of mere participation will add some serious long-term value to the ladies game and indeed football in general.
The Sasol sponsored team, led by the peerless Janine van Wyk, will be keen to put on a good showing, particularly given the recent upswing that has swept across South African football. The U20 men's team is just one example of qualification success as is the senior men's team Bafana Bafana, who will be strutting their stuff in the upcoming 2019 African Cup of Nations (AFCON).
President Cyril Ramaphosa, post qualification, went on to state: "The team just keeps making us proud. Somebody call France and tell them Phillip is coming".
However, just why is the team's participation important and indeed relevant? In the broader context, just how does their qualification impact on South African women's football as well as SA football as a whole? Just how pertinent is this event for the country though and why is it the most relevant event in our recent history?
For starters, this marks the first time in the country's history that the women's national side have qualified for the quadrennial showpiece, marking a significant milestone for the nation's footballing legacy and history.
Firstly, football development will be given a major boost. Simple participation will encourage young girls to go for their dreams and that anything is possible. There is also bound to be more interest in the sport from young girls and hence a surge in sheer numbers of youth getting involved in the sport. This, combined with the inevitable injection of funds into the game, are bound to aid in women's football development.
Secondly, a chance for performing stars to get noticed around the globe. Displaying your skills on the grandest stage of them all is sure to players noticed by countries such as the United States, who are always on the lookout for talent to import. Solid showings can also land players neat sponsorship deals and improved contracts. This also ties in with brand exposure for what the country has to offer in terms of football and proving our pedigree in the sport.
Thirdly, the legacy and prestige that is so sought after. In sport, teams and nations are judged on those that came, saw and conquered. Simply being associated with such a tournament, which only a select few countries get to experience, ensures your status in the world game. Leaving your mark and etching your name in the history books for decades to come, is no mean feat.
Then of course is the socio-economic factor. This is extremely relevant within the South African scheme of things. Many players hail from disadvantaged areas and have already proved to be an inspiration to their communities. Competing in a world cup will only enhance this even further and prove to be a stepping stone for even greater things that most poor communities could only dream of.
Last but not least, the monetary gains. FIFA has doubled the overall prize money compared to 2015 with the winners set to earn a cool $4 million with even the worst performing team guaranteed up to $750, 000. Converted into Rands, this will prove a very large sum from which to share and improve players professional as well as personal lives. The South African Football Association (SAFA) will also use this money to better grass roots development and grow the overall game.
The above factors are just the tip of the iceberg and even before a ball is kicked, our women's national team have already done the nation proud!
By Dhirshan Gobind