Women make strides in male dominated sport

Joyce Angelina Soupen. Picture: Supplied

Joyce Angelina Soupen. Picture: Supplied

Published Apr 16, 2024


Often finding themselves facing the stigma and challenges of playing in a "male dominated" sport, women are still pushing on and racking up accolades in cue sport.

This week, Joyce Angelina Soupen, Joelle Archary and Rudelle Pillay will compete in the South African Blackball National Championship in Durban. The event will run from April 17 to May 5.

Soupen, 53, from Bayview in Chatsworth, started playing pool in 2017 and welcomed the challenge of the game being predominantly played by males, and used the challenge to her advantage, by improving her game.

She said now, blackball and other cue sports were no longer as male-dominated as before.

“The number of female pool players in KwaZulu-Natal is gaining momentum. Thankfully, our communities are moving away from the stereotypical views that pool is simply a social game and is mostly played by men. Cuesport is a recognised sport, played at national and international levels by both men and women,” she said.

She was introduced to pool at university and found that she was fairly good at it and occasionally won tournaments.

“In 2017, when my three kids were old enough, I joined a blackball league. I soon realised I was not as good as I thought and had a lot to learn about a game.

“There was a dress code, more defined rules and a code of conduct. More importantly, I learnt that the game itself required tactical and strategic play,” she said.

Soupen learned new skills and techniques, as well as an understanding of the geometry and physics of the game.

A year later, in 2018, she achieved her first KZN cap and a place on the women's first team. She then represented KZN in the 2018 South African National Championships at Grand West Casino in Cape Town.

“My experience at this level was an even bigger learning curve, as it required more skillful and highly competitive play. This motivated me to up my game and improve. Since then I have made the KZN ladies first team every year,” she added.

The highlight of Soupen’s pool career was achieving number one in KZN for two consecutive years in 2021 and 2022.

In 2021, she earned a spot on the SA National Team and was selected to represent SA in the Blackball World Championships in Australia. But the event was cancelled due to the Covid-10 pandemic. In 2022, she made the SA national team again, but had to step down due to medical issues.

She urges parents, schools and communities to encourage youth to participate in sport at club level at an early age to better their performance and their chances of representing their country.

“I also encourage other women, who have a passion for cuesport, to join a league and expose themselves to a more disciplined and higher level of play that can open doors to greater experiences."

– Archary, 28, from Westville, started playing pool seven years ago.

In 2019, she held the number 1 title in KZN for the women’s category of Chinese 8-ball pool. She is also a member of the KZN ladies first team. Last year, she was placed 13th in the country and obtained her Protea colours in 2023.

“I represented South Africa at the Hawley Cup in October last year. This year, I reached number 3 in the KZN ladies category. I am proud that more women are playing pool. Previously, there were about 12 to 15 female players, but this year it doubled."

Archery added that the stigma that women cannot play as well as the men was still prevalent.

“We play differently, but I wont say we can't play as well as them. Men don't take us as seriously as they should, but sometimes we know that they are intimidated by us being in ‘their space’."

Archery will represent KZN at the nationals this year.

– Pillay is not intimidated by male opponents. Her strategy is to combat the challenges she faces while playing.

The 30-year-old, of Havenside, yearned to play pool from when she was about six years old. She used to watch her older cousin play and was in awe of his collection of trophies, and she too wished she could play and win trophies.

“When I was 18, I started off in a small social bar league. From then on, there was no stopping me,” she said.

Her greatest accomplishment was representing South Africa at the Blackball International Games in Morocco in 2022.

“I have satisfied my inner child and she got the trophies she wanted. I want women to know that they don't have to be intimidated by anyone in the sport and they must never give up.

“They will definitely be underestimated and it is scary since it's a male dominated sport. As a beginner, you will lose a lot of games. But you must be willing to learn from each and every one of them. I want parents of girls to know that pool is not just a bar game. One will learn to be disciplined, strategic and focused. Let the girls play pool,” she added.