Babalwa Latsha takes on gender inequality in sport

The Springbok women’s rugby captain aims to use her law degree to advocate for the rights of South Africa’s sportswomen – and women in general – by influencing policy on and off the field.

Springbok women’s rugby captain Babalwa Latsha aims to use her law degree to tackle the massive challenge of inequality that sportswomen face in South Africa. 

Women athletes in the country, regardless of sporting code, face a number of challenges. These include being paid less than their male counterparts to, worse, being treated poorly by the associations who are the custodians of the various sports. The main reason for this inequality is sponsors are less interested in investing in women’s sports, and it doesn’t help that their games aren’t well supported or given much media coverage. 

The 25-year-old from Site B in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, finished her law degree at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) last year and now wants to address some of these issues. 

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“Studying law was a conscious decision that I took,” she says. “It is not something that happened by chance at all. I think law and sport can go hand in hand, because we need people to be our voices now more than ever. We need people who advocate for women first of all, and also for women in sport. 

“I think the law could be a tool for that, because we need to find ourselves in positions where we can influence policy, where we can influence legal processes to add to our cause, which is equality in women’s sport in general, because there is a massive gap between women and men in the sporting world. The best tool to change that is to have a law in place to enforce that, so repercussions can take place should the policies not be adhered to,” she adds.

The prop says she would like to change the status quo as there is nothing at the moment forcing unions and organisations to support women’s rugby, or to have equity measures in sporting organisations. 

Sport in her blood

Latsha was introduced to women’s rugby at university. At UWC, she played Sevens rugby in the varsity tournament hosted by the controlling body University Sports South Africa. She was also involved in the South African Rugby Legends’ Vuka programme, which came to Khayelitsha from time to time to teach children how to play rugby.

“I got into the sport by chance,” she says. “I did not know there was women’s rugby to begin with and that was something that interested me. I was curious and I thought I should try it out.”

Latsha’s passion for sports comes from her family. Her mother played netball while her father was a footballer. She followed briefly in her father’s footsteps until the rugby bug bit her. 

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“I grew up in a home that is very supportive, and they are a sport-loving family,” Latsha says. “My dad loved running and I used to run with him in the mornings. So I have been living an active lifestyle for a very long time. 

“The challenges in women’s sport globally are universal,” she continues. “We are not as popular as the Springboks men’s team, so that means the resources and funding is limited. The development is there. Our union is trying, because if you look back to when women’s rugby started in 2001, the things we have now were non-existent at the time.”

Although women’s rugby development is more visible, Latsha says not enough is being done to groom upcoming talent. But she hopes the nature of these challenges will change now that the women’s national team has qualified for the 2021 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.

Balancing school and sport 

Having chosen one of the most demanding and time-consuming fields of study, Latsha found juggling rugby and studying a challenge. But she soldiered on. Most of the time, she had to write specially-scheduled exams because of conflicts with training camps and travelling with the Springboks. It was hard work, but imperative that she excelled in both her studies and on the field, for her to be taken seriously as a voice for women’s sports in the country. 

“I never had second chances at exams like normal students,” she says. “Sometimes I would be so anxious because I had to get things done. But at the same time I had to put up a great performance on the field as well. It was just a balancing game, really. Sometimes I would be so tired that I would not feel like studying at all, but I would have to study.

“I had a clear goal to play rugby and still complete my studies, and that was just a driving force for me at the time. The plan [was] to study further and play rugby at the same time. I have managed to do it so far, so I think I can continue and perhaps in the near future look into showcasing SA rugby to the rest of the world internationally.”

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In August, Latsha and her teammates secured their place in the next Rugby World Cup with a 39-0 victory over Kenya in the deciding match of the qualifiers at the Bosman Stadium in Brakpan. The last time the team participated in the World Cup was in 2014. They missed out on playing in the 2017 tournament, which took place in Ireland.

Rubbing shoulders with the best 

Latsha says the break has helped them redevelop and reinvent women’s rugby in South Africa. Although they want to compete against the best in the world, the captain says it was difficult to predict how her team will perform in New Zealand.

“I think the 2018 tour was a good test of international rugby because we played against Spain, Wales and Italy,” she adds. “Those are some of the leading nations in women’s rugby, apart from New Zealand, who are the best in the world currently. We’ve got more or less of an idea where we stand as a rugby nation and as a national team in the bigger scheme of things. I think we stand a good chance. We have the talent and the girls are putting in the hard work.”

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Latsha says being given the captain’s armband was the biggest achievement of her career so far. It’s an important role to play in any team and it requires a lot of input, but at the same time it grows you as an individual. However, captaincy comes with extra responsibilities as she has to lead by example on and off the field. 

“We are not going there to add numbers, we need to compete,” she continues. “We are also waiting to hear big announcements because after Banyana Banyana qualified for the [Fifa Women’s] World Cup, things started happening for them.

“We are hoping the same for us as well. For a good result at the World Cup, you need to put in a good investment for a good return. We are excited to see those type of changes within our system.”

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