5 Agust 2020 - Banyana Banyana coach Desiree Ellis says her team can only benefit from a number of players signing for overseas clubs. Having come close to winning the AWCON tournament in 2018 in Ghana before losing to Nigeria in the final on penalties, Ellis thinks 2022 might be South Africa's year to win the continental title.
SAFA.net spoke to Ellis on a number of issues to mark the Women's Month.
As we celebrate Women's Month, how far has the sport of football grown in the country?
The recently completed SAFA Women's National League is a step in the right direction though there is still a lot of work to be done to get where we want it to be. Next season hopefully can be bigger and better. University football has played a huge role in the advancement of the game and helped bridge the gap and has been fantastic in complementing our National teams. We have been to two successive Olympic games, a Senior and u17 World Cup, more players playing abroad and that is a step upwards but together we still have so much more to do.
2. What's your wish for women's football going forward?
I am very excited by the new CAF Women's strategy and would like to once again congratulate Mamelodi Sundowns as they prepare to represent us in the CAF Women's Champions League. We need more sponsorship to come on board to assist us in advancing the game, get more schools leagues up and running and more age group football at all LFA's. There is need for more playing time and more competitions, as well as more games for our youth national teams and hopefully have a professional league sooner. Everyone involved in Women's football need to play their part to augment the good work done by the SAFA leadership
3. How will the big number of ladies being signed by overseas clubs help in having a strong Banyana Banyana side?
This has just been incredible and beyond my wildest imagination. I am almost afraid to blink because when I wake up in the morning, there is another player signed up. The players have been fantastic with their individual work behind the scenes and through their efforts are now taking the next step on their new journeys. The experiences they will now bring to Banyana Banyana will be immense and hopefully this will help raise the levels in the team to greater heights. I remember going to the 2016 AWCON in Cameroon and facing the likes of Cameroon and Nigeria who had about 80 percent of their squad playing abroad and you could see the experience in their teams during certain situations. We are now possibly in a position to also bring similar experiences to Banyana Banyana.
4. How will the world overcome the effects of the covid-19 pandemic on the sport?
Look, these are unprecedented times and not something anyone planned for. It has been a frustrating period. Unfortunately, at the moment, most football has taken a back seat, not just in South Africa but in most parts of the whole world. Yes, some leagues have started to play and that is great to see, but watching on television you can see it's not the normal game we are used to. For now, we have to take care of our families and loved ones, making sure everyone is safe. Obviously not playing regularly has pushed many of us further backwards and it will take a few months, maybe longer, depending on how long the inactivity is. But first, we have to play our part and be responsible citizens; that way, we can flatten the curve. What is certain is that we are going to return to a different kind of normal, but it is what it is.
5. Having coming so close to winning the AWCON championship in Ghana, how do you rate this Banyana Banyana side?
The experience of having played in so many finals most probably gave Nigeria the edge but we gave as good as we got before losing on penalties which is a lottery. I think the players were absolutely amazing in the way they went about the whole tournament where we finished unbeaten in the field of play. They were focused on the plan but their execution of the plan said it all and got us through to the final and subsequently qualified for the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup. We always speak about team work and you can't forget the behind the scenes work done by the technical team, medical team and the rest of the support staff. We have to surpass that to qualify for the next FIFA Women's World Cup in 2023.
6. Can they go a step up and win the continental championship?
The next tournament has been increased from eight to twelve countries. The format will obviously change and that will make it even tougher, but it will take similar planning and focus to first qualify and then to put in a better effort to win it in 2022 which by the way also doubles up as a 2023 World Cup qualifying tournament.
7. So yes we can definitely win it.How have you been 'killing' time during this covid-19?
Funny enough, one has been busier than when football is in session. When the lockdown was announced, the first thing I did was to make sure I get back home to Cape Town as I wanted to make sure that my mom is okay as she is 75 and in the high risk category. It has been a great time being with family during these difficult times - it's moments like these when you realise just how important family is.
8. What is your message for women in sport during this month of August?
We should not be competing with each other but we should be celebrating each other more often as well as other women's achievements. This should motivate us to do better. Let's support each other at all times as together we can do so much more to raise the profile and take women in sport to the next level.
9. Message to sponsors SASOL?
I run out of words all the time and there are so many superlatives I can use but I think a very, very big THANK YOU will suffice for all the support that SASOL has given women's football since 2009. Without SASOL's support I can't even imagine where women's football would be right now. SASOL has been with us when we qualified for 2012 London and 2016 Rio Olympics, but I think the biggest achievement must be when we qualified for the 2019 FIFA World Cup in France. We appreciate everything that SASOL has done for Women's football and we hope that the partnership with SAFA will go on for many years to come.