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Compassion & Hard Work: The 26 Year Fight

Former Technical Director of Women's Football at the South African Football Association (SAFA) Fran Hilton-Smith's determination and love for women’s football has been crucial to the development of the game for close to three decades.

In the early years of Banyana Banyana, she was met with resistance from figures who felt the women’s game had no place in South Africa, and at times, her work left her life in danger. However, since the turn of the century, Hilton-Smith’s behind-the-scenes work has led to remarkable growth.

In 2002, Banyana Banyana won the COSAFA Cup, and seven years later, petroleum giant Sasol teamed up with SAFA to help grow women’s football. According to the now-retired veteran, the latter marked a major shift for the game.

“They’re the power behind Banyana and it’s because of them that team was able to play highly competitive games against the USA, Sweden [and] the Netherlands, which gave them the edge. That’s why they qualified for the Olympics [and] the World Cup, because they were able to compete,” she explained on SL Radio's podcast, The Big Interview.

The former Banyana Banyana coach also expressed her pride in the number of South African women moving to European football leagues; “It’s a dream come true for me. When I worked for FIFA from 2002 until recently, I always used to tell my colleagues and anyone who’d listen that South Africa has the best players in the world and they’d always laugh and say ‘it’s Fran being patriotic.' I used to come back and tell the players [that] they could be on the world stage, we just needed to qualify for the Olympics or specifically the World Cup. I knew they’d be snapped up because we have the most skilful [players]. We have so many, four in a week now being snapped up. Also, what’s great for me is a lot of them are from the high-performance centre (HPC) I started 16 years ago. Linda [Motlhalo], Thembi [Kgatlane], Janine [Van Wyk], Vivo (Nothando Vilakazi), they all come from HPCs. So it shows that the project was worth fighting for as well.”

Listen to all the full interview with Fran Hilton-Smith in the player below.

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