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Desriee Ellis has played an important part in the success of South African Women’s Sports (South Africa)

Globally, South Africa has often found itself behind the eight ball but things are changing, and they are changing fast. Currently, we have a national netball league, a women’s cricket team that performed admirably during this year’s World Cup and many athletes coming through the ranks behind our stars, Caster Semenya and Sunette Viljoen.

However, football is the most watched sport in South Africa. Our men’s league, the Premier Soccer League (PSL) is one of the richest leagues, if not the richest, on the African continent.

However, our men’s team have not performed at a decent level since qualifying for the 2002 World Cup.

Banyana Banyana, as we fondly call our women’s football side, has performed well during this time. Competing internationally with Germany, USA and other major nations will always be a tough task, considering financial backing these teams have, but Banyana Banyana has performed above what some might have expected by qualifying for last two Olympic Games tournaments.

In order to get some insight into the state of women’s football, we sat down with the current interim coach and former Banyana Banyana captain, Desiree Ellis, to see how she made it through the ranks to become what she is today.

The early 90s was a different time for women in sport. Not much, if any, money was put into women’s sport—at the very least, it was nowhere near where it is today in terms of financial support.

But the love for the game was never diminished among our youth, even in the dark days. With no female football teams in the area during her youth, Ellis simply played with the boys—on the fields or in the street—where she says “the real competitive matches took place”.

Jokingly, Ellis tells us how she used to jump the fence at school to go play with the boys and, although this got her into trouble, she was fortunate enough to miss detention because she played netball for the school too.

After eventually finding a girls team (at the age of 15), Ellis joined and in 1993, she was selected for Banyana Banyana. She also claimed the vice-captaincy role. Her debut was a day to savour as she scored a hat-trick in a “14-0 drubbing Swaziland”, which, to this day, remains Banyana Banyana’s biggest winning margin.

Ellis’ rise through the ranks was fast in the early years. A year after her debut—1994—she was promoted to take up the captaincy role. The early years were tough, as they were for most sports. Coming out of Apartheid, the early- to mid-90s was a rebuilding phase. As captain, Ellis was required to guide her team through this, in general, despite being inexperienced herself on the international stage, but she did an admirable job.



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