South Africa is widely known as an achieving sports country. Yet, issues of inequality and a lack of role models in women sport have plagued development of sport in South Africa. The study commenced with the leadership phenomenon as a background to the study and secondary sources were explored to provide a summative framework. This part of the research focused on generic leadership concepts, theories, approaches and styles. It was elaborated with leadership in the context of the sports industry and track and field (athletics).
The theoretical argument is that if South Africa has equal talent and opportunity South African women athletics should not have such poor performance record in terms of medals and world rankings. Women have been hindered in terms of access to sports participation in all different spheres of sport and the dominance of men in sport leadership positions is nothing new. The literature review indicates underlying factors such as gender stereotyping, socio-cultural expectations (and traditions), lack of media coverage, limited access to participation, limited education programmes and other initiatives. Women’s athletics is in trouble when measured against the number of athletes competing in the international arena. Statistics shows that women consisted of only 25,4 % of the national team for major championships between 2007 and 2018. The overall status of women athletics in terms of development and performance is therefore a major concern. The primary research objective was to determine the underlying factors and primary reasons for inequality and the lack of professional female athletes and role models in women athletics in South Africa.
A qualitative research approach was followed to address the problem. A convenience sample of well-known female athletes, coaches and administrators participated in the empirical part of the study. Semi-structured interviews (n=16) were conducted, audio-recorded, transcribed and the data were analysed and reduced by means of a thematic analysis. The following six themes were identified from the data: athletics participation in South Africa, standards of women’s athletics, gender inequality, female role models in athletics, reasons for the lack of female sports leaders and suggestions (ideas and innovations) for a management framework to address the situation. The results confirmed a definite lack of female leaders in athletics. The problem originates with the lack of depth within the participation base of athletics especially at university level. The survey confirmed that women athletics is substandard and needs drastic improvement. Besides obvious reasons the underlying factors are the promising athletes leaving the sport. Lack of support, inadequate development and the weak motivation of athletics as a profession were given as primary causes. On the one extreme there is a lack of opportunities for children in rural areas and on the other spectrum athletic schools are too competitive and overly performance-driven. Both these extremes have a negative bearing on the longevity of potential athletic careers. The survey also affirmed that female athletes at the university level of athletics participation are in the greatest need of support.
The entire study enabled the researcher to develop a conceptual framework to address the problem. It consists of several levels (strategic and functional), a WADP (women athletic development and role model program) manager with three specific program areas, namely (1) an incentive program (RIBDP), (2) a change agent program and (3) a program with strategic events. The implementation of this framework demands national support and signed treaties to improve women athletics holistically. It is therefore concluded that athletics in South Africa can only benefit from an investment (implementation) in such a framework that will demand national-level sport leadership to produce professional women athletes to be and become women athletics role models.