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Desiree Ellis

Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy - British Council
 This article was generously provided to ClubFootball by the British Council, which operates in China as the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy.

 

Such is Desiree Ellis' commitment to her footballing career that she was prepared to lose her job to fulfil her duty as captain of South Africa's national women's team.
 
"My employers were unhappy that I was often away on provincial and international commitments. One day when I returned to work a day late from a tournament, I was told to leave," recalls Ellis.
 
After initially doubting the wisdom of her decision, which resulted in her being unemployed for three years, Ellis now looks back nine years later at a sacrifice which turned out to be worthwhile.
 
"I've been fortunate to have captained my country since 1993 and because of that many other opportunities have opened up for me," says Ellis.
 
Mark Gleeson, editor of a newly-established national football magazine, heard of Ellis's predicament and offered her a job in the photographic library, where she has been ever since.
 
"Because I am working for employers who have football at heart, it became much easier for me to concentrate on my career as a footballer. They are very supportive," says Ellis.
 
These days she is one of the more recognisable faces among South African football followers thanks to greater media coverage of women's football.
 
Over the past few years she has appeared regularly as a studio guest during telecasts of international soccer matches.
 
"The media has definitely improved the profile of women's football over the last few years," says Ellis.
 
"Last year all our games at the women's African Cup of Nations tournament were televised live which made all the players much more recognisable to the footballing public. Also, I featured in the television advertisement for the sponsor of the new women's football league."
 
The diminutive 38-year old Ellis, has been captain of South Africa's national team, popularly known as Banyana Banyana, since they played their first international in March 1993 against neighbouring Swaziland.
 
Her male colleagues, who are full-time professionals, of course, have no problems when it comes to fulfilling international commitments. Most of them, like the captain Shaun Bartlett, who plays for Charlton Athletic in the English Premiership, play in the lucrative European leagues where they earn attractive salaries.
 
Even though Ellis bemoans the large disparity between the financial rewards and the profile of the men's national team and the women's team, she believes it's part of a mission to improve things for the next generation of women's footballers.
 
"I often tell the other Banyana Banyana players that we are playing for fame and not for fortune," she says.
 
"We only get a win bonus and a daily allowance when we are in camp. The men get an appearance fee while their win bonuses and daily allowances are much more than what we get. Also they get to keep their kit whereas we have to hand it back after every game - we don't have any momentos and we certainly can't change shirts with opposition teams after the match," says Ellis.
 
Despite the relatively small allowances they get, Ellis says many of the Banyana Banyana squad actually look forward to receiving their allowances because they are unemployed.
 
"The only problem is that, unlike the men's team, we don't play very often. We only play when there's a tournament or qualifying games for the World Cup, the African Cup of Nations or the Olympics. The last time we played was last November when we lost in the final of the African Cup of Nations to Nigeria."
 
Although progress has been slow, Ellis believes the current crop of women's footballers are paving the way for a better future for the next generation. "I believe things will be much better for women's football in five years time. The administrators have started to take a greater interest in us. In three years time, for example, we will have our first national professional league which is a great incentive."
 
Women's issues have been prioritised by a South African government which seeks to seriously redress the imbalances of the Apartheid past. Already women are making huge strides in the political, business and academic spheres.
 
While there is still some scepticism about women's suitability to participate in physical sports like rugby and boxing, their skills on the football field are receiving the recognition it deserves.

 

 

Mohammed Allie, January 2002

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