JOHANNESBURG, Banyana Banyana, South Africa’s women’s football team, are hard at work in pursuit of improving their fitness levels at the Nike Football Training Centre in Soweto, Johannesburg, in preparation for the Rio Olympic Games in August.

“We have fallen behind in terms of fitness compared with when we played against Equatorial Guinea in October last year (in qualification for the Olympics),” said Banyana Banyana head coach Vera Pauw Wednesday.

“Our main priority is to keep the fitness levels up. I am glad we are back early in the year so we can get those levels to the highest intensity and to grow even further so we can be fitter and stronger and be able to compete.”

On Tuesday, the players underwent tests conducted by the University of Pretoria. “We are conducting these tests, which will be regular so we can ensure that we keep track and monitor the recovery rate of the players so that we know how much work load we need to put.

When you don’t recover well, it affects your performance. So it is crucial that we get it right,” added Pauw.

As for the playing personnel, goalkeeper Roxanne Barker has left her Iceland club to focus her attention on the preparations for the Olympics. The training programme is jam-packed and will require players to be available full-time.

“It’s nice to see such commitment and players willing to sacrifice so much to be part of the final squad. We have others who have taken leave from work and school and it gives one pleasure to see so much enthusiasm from the players. Many know that this is a once-in-a-life time opportunity,” said the coach.

Meanwhile, midfielder Amanda Dlamini has missed the two camps in the new year because of family commitments. “We would have loved her to be here with us but in this case, family comes first,” the coach said.

“We have given her a training programme that she is following so she can be active and is not left behind too much. But obviously, we would love her to be with us so that she is on par with the other players. She can only do that once she is ready, and we understand her situation.”