A standoff between South Africa‘s Women’s World Cup squad and the national soccer association over pay and other issues forced officials to field a makeshift team of little-known players that included a 13-year-old for a game against Botswana on Sunday.
The game was supposed to be the final warm-up match for the African women’s champion on home soil before it headed off to the Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, but it turned into an embarrassment on and off the field as the entire World Cup squad sat out the game.
South Africa’s team of replacement players — hastily pulled together from local clubs — lost 5-0 to Botswana at the Tsakane Stadium near Johannesburg. They were 4-0 down at half-time in a game that was delayed for an hour at the request of the South African Football Association (SAFA) so it could scramble and put together a team.
South Africa coach Desiree Ellis said one of the players she had to draft in was aged 13. In a postmatch interview, she didn’t comment on the problems.
The World Cup players only arrived at the match at half-time, when they emerged to watch from the stands.
SAFA also didn’t immediately comment on what sparked the standoff, but Thulaganyo Gaoshubelwe, the president of the South African Football Players Union — which represents the interests of soccer players — said the incident was partly caused by poor pay for the players.
“They are fighting for their rights,” Gaoshubelwe said of the South African players in a video posted on his union’s official Twitter account. “SAFA doesn’t want to include money in their contracts. We must fight for the rights of these players.”
Gaoshubelwe, who was standing next to some of the players outside the team hotel in the video, said their complaints had been “dismissed” by SAFA. He was also seen in discussions with the players and accompanied them to the stadium when they turned up at halftime.
Gaoshubelwe claimed SAFA president Danny Jordaan was to blame for the standoff.
South Africa Sports Minister Zizi Kodwa said in a statement he would be meeting with the players’ union on Tuesday “to hear the serious concerns expressed by the team.”
The meeting would be about the players’ “welfare” and issues related to their contracts, Kodwa said.
The squad is due to fly to New Zealand in two groups on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The South African Broadcasting Corp. reported that players were also annoyed that their farewell game before the World Cup was held at the Tsakane Stadium, which holds just 5,000 people and is not a high-profile soccer venue.
The players viewed that as a mark of disrespect for them from their national soccer association, the SABC reported.
SABC and other television networks broadcast images of the World Cup squad members standing around outside their team bus at a hotel shortly before the game was due to kick off. SAFA CEO Lydia Monyepao was seen speaking with the players.
South Africa won the Women’s African Cup of Nations last year for their first major title, yet the players have often complained that they aren’t given the recognition or benefits that the men’s team gets.
South Africa is due to play Costa Rica in New Zealand on July 15 in its final World Cup warm-up game. South Africa plays Sweden, Argentina and Italy in the group stage at the World Cup, starting against the Swedes on July 23.
South Africa Women’s World Cup team sits out in pay dispute