2019 will be remembered as a turning point for women’s football in South Africa, where a lot of progress was made to ensure rapid growth in the sport. It includes the newly formed South African Football Association (SAFA) Women’s National League and Banyana Banyana’s debut at the Fifa World Cup in France.

However, a recent CAF workshop in Cairo, Egypt, highlighted major challenges that were affecting the sport to broaden its territory across the African continent. It was evident at the World Cup where all African countries suffered early exits.

Banyana Banyana’s participation at the 2019 Women’s Fifa World Cup and winning the Cosafa Cup for a third successive time were the only proud moments for the team. At the World Cup they showed that they had the potential to take on the big guns of the world, while at the regional tournament they commanded their authority.

Despite the positive outcomes from the two competitions, it was a rather poor run of form from the senior women’s team. Desiree Ellis and her charges survived 2019 with little criticism for their performances, as focus had been shifted to the global spectacle.

Banyana Banyana had the privilege of playing top ranked sides this year that included World Champions, the USA. However, they failed to register a win in all of their friendly matches. The situation was worsened when the team was knocked out of the 2020 Olympic qualifiers by neighbours Botswana.

Banyana Banyana have entered the next four year cycle and it starts with a quiet year which includes qualifiers for the 2020 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations and the actual tournament. It’s an opportunity for Ellis to have a look at other players through various training camps during the year. The pool of players to chose from has increased with the formation of the Safa Women’s National League.

The League was established in August and currently comprises of 12 teams. In 2020 the teams will increase to 14 following the promotion of JVW and MaIndies FC to the league. The two sides were the finalists at the Sasol National Play-offs in Tsakane.

“You have to be prepared for the next level but you have to make sure you do everything right at this level and I’m sure that the two teams that will go up to the national women’s league would be better prepared than the teams that are playing now because they would have seen what has happened over the last couple of months,” says Banyana Banyana Coach, Desiree Ellis.

Women’s football on African soil has for many years shown great potential but it’s only in recent years that the sport on the continent has joined the rest of the world in its rapid growth on the field of play. All participating countries at the 2019 Women’s Fifa World Cup were applauded for their performances despite early exits.

Banyana Banyana failed to advance to the knock-out stage while the campaigns of Nigeria and Cameroon who have previously competed at this level, ended in the round of 16. These results were a glaring fact that despite the abundance of talent on the continent, there were a number of factors slowing down the progress.

What has been identified, is the need to attract commercial investors for the sport to reach its full potential. Commercially women’s football has not claimed its independence which is also hampering the development of the game. The challenge is to ensure that the brand is appealing to investors.

Although various women’s leagues have been established across the continent, they are just a fraction of what is required to steer the sport to greater heights. Perhaps potential investors are reluctant to invest in a brand that is not an attraction due to certain factors that may include the lack of competitiveness. SAFA’s recently launched national league for women is an example, that the playing field is not level.

More structured community competitions can contribute to popularise the sport.

“We started 19 years ago here we are today where Refiloe Jane, Thembi Kgatlane, Amanda Mthandi started here and we have few of them now playing at national under 17. It shows we are adding value to whatever the world of women’s football is doing and we want to play in that space of women football development within the SAFA structures,” says SAFA NEC member, Phil Mogodi.

Although CAF’s initiative to improve women’s football has received its fair share of praise, it still remains a process that will take time to reach its targeted goal.