Romaney Pinnock is excited about taking South African Women’s Football to the next level

The South African Football Association (SAFA) has made a very important appointment – that of Head of Women’s Football.

They have tasked a little known Romaney Pinnock to take the role, which has been vacant for a very long time.

The appointment came as the Sasol-sponsored Banyana Banyana were about to compete at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

It is also smack bang in the middle of a crucial bidding process – that of hosting the next edition of the global football women’s showpiece, the 2027 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Pinnock has worked as a management consultant for over 10 years and comes armed with a FIFA Master in Management, Law and Humanities of Sport; an MSc with a focus on ecotoxicology (As an eco-toxicologist, you’re responsible for predicting the effects of pollutants on food resources for wildlife populations, ecosystems, and humans. Eco-toxicologists aim to understand, predict and prevent undesirable events in the natural environment) from the University of Siena in Italy as well a medical honours and BSc in Genetics from the University of Cape Town.

She is also the founding director of the Cape Town-based women’s club – Badgers Football Academy (Badgers is built around increasing access for girls and women to inclusive and welcoming sporting communities, wherein they feel empowered and can grow in both a personal and sporting capacity).

The former Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation COO has an impressive CV which points out that she has held several key roles – like Programme Manager for the Western Cape Education Department, and was recently a freelance strategy consultant for UEFA, the University of Cape Town and the University of Zululand.

“Her duties in the role include heading up the delivery of Safa Women’s Football strategy,” said in a statement.

Women’s Football is probably the Association’s most successful unit, which means all eyes  will be on Pinnock, and while she knows the challenges ahead, she is not fazed by the appointment.

“We have a long way to go in raising women’s football to the level it deserves to be in this country. This task will be hard, but I am excited by the challenge. With the support of the Association, broader stakeholders, sponsors and brilliant people already doing great work in women’s football, we will create a lasting effect for the women’s game. Having a hand in ensuring more girls and women can play football in safe and supportive environments is such a privilege and I look forward to what lies ahead,” she told sat down with Pinnock to check out what makes her tick and what her plans are.

As Head of Women’s Football, what are your focus points?

As head of women’s football what I hope to focus on is strategic development of women’s football for the country, from the grassroots level to a professional level. For me what that means is looking at how do we raise more money for the system, how do we prioritize strategic work areas, how can your average young girl starting out in football know what her pathway looks like going forward and access it easily – and access is a big issue in South Africa. We might have the best talent out there, but we can’t find it because that young girl doesn’t know that (a) she’s allowed to play football (b) there’s somewhere for her to play and (c) what the next few steps look like if she shows promise. So, hopefully by developing a more robust system that is well-funded, well-supported and well-staffed, we can create a system that harnesses talent, cares for talent, supports talent and starts moving girls along the pathway where they can excel at their football.

Where do you think the challenges lie?

Women’s football across the world is experiencing a surge of interest and investment. The sport is almost entirely male-dominated in South Africa, from the administrators to the coaches, through to the investment. Banyana Banyana has succeeded despite this ecosystem. We need to convince investors that the women’s game is a good investment, fans to watch the sport, broadcasters to air it and communities to support young girls joining their local clubs. 

Early investors, like Sasol, have really helped to push the women’s game forward, and more recent sponsors are getting involved as they see the potential within this space. The challenges will be to grow the number of investors, to create impactful outcomes, to ensure more people have access to watching games and joining clubs, and to put in place a long-term strategy that guides us towards sporting success, on and off the field.

You come into the job to find a team that won the WAFCON and is playing in World Cups – what does it mean for the work that has been done?

First of all, credit to the amazing work that has been done within the current environment. I think that we need to thank a lot of key individuals who worked to get Banyana Banyana to where they are. Considering this current success, this is an amazing time to step into this job. Now we need to ask – How do we ensure that players get what they need, staff get what they need, and performance remains at a top level and improves even further. This is both challenging and exciting, and part of this work is to assess the current role players and ensure top level work is being performed, in a supportive environment, in which staff and players feel valued and deliver their best.

You will need a balancing act to do what you want to do – there are things like budget constraints, understanding the work conditions. How will you manoeuvre around that?

It’s a little step by little step journey. There will definitely be some battles to fight when it comes to creating or stretching the budgets for women’s football, making sure money goes to the right places, while ensuring that we learn from our current success stories and grow in a strategic, impact-driven manner.

How does your new position speak to South Africa’s FIFA Women’s World Cup bid for 2027?

What I will be working on in the next few months is helping the Bid Committee put together the bid for 2027. In Sydney, Australia, FIFA took us through a bid preparation programme (with all the other bidding nations), ensuring we have the necessary guidelines and support in order for us to put a successful bid forward. Through the Bid, we will showcase our infrastructure, our readiness, and our development plans towards hosting a successful 2027 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

From what you have seen, what are the lessons learnt from this World Cup to deliver a successful one should we get to host in 2027?

I think South Africans are really good at coming together around sporting pride and when we have that energy, I think we can make anything happen. Just seeing the support from home for Banyana Banyana, the positive impact that hosting the 2010 FIFA World Cup had for the country’s morale, and how as a country we came together with such great camaraderie around our sporting heroes, makes me believe that we can host a Women’s World Cup like none other. Australia and New Zealand have delivered an amazing tournament – they have set the bar that we must exceed in order to deliver one of the greatest World Cup tournaments.

In your view where do you think South African Women’s Football is, and where would you like to see it?

I think Women’s Football in South Africa has done very well at a national level but still has a long way to go. If we think about our First Division (Hollywoodbets Super League) and Second Division (Sasol League) leagues, these leagues have created an excellent structure and pathway for players, with both these sponsors clearly seeing the importance in investing in women’s football. However, improvements can still be made within these spaces, both administratively and financially. There are First Division players who still have full-time jobs and earn nothing from their sport. A journey towards professionalisation of our top leagues will allow more women to earn from their sporting abilities. Furthermore, at grassroot level, the ability for a young girl to arrive at a football club and join easily and be welcomed, can still be a struggle in many communities. Just hearing some of the individual struggle stories of the current Banyana Banyana squad about how they got to where they are, highlights how difficult it is to get to that point. Creating a clear and attainable pathway from grassroots to being able to play on our national team is critical.

Professionalisation of women’s football in the country, is that your key area and when we will have that in place?

One of my key work areas will be creating a fully professional league for women, as well as ensuring a robust administrative structure – a large part of this work is around commercialization and sponsorship. Hopefully we have a flurry of corporates reaching out, after the current Banyana Banyana success, who can see long term returns from investing in the women’s game. There are huge opportunities available when it comes to investing in women’s football. Around the world we are seeing positive outcomes, for the investing companies, the players, and the entire ecosystem. I would love to see basic salaries in place across all clubs in the Hollywoodbets Super League by 2024 – let’s see what’s possible.

By Matlhomola Morake

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