Controversy on the Horizon: South African Football Assn. Urges Women's Team to Exploit 'Assets'

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - The South African women's soccer team will be coached in etiquette and given tighter jerseys in a drive to soften its image and attract sponsorship ahead of a 2007 World Cup bid.

A top official said on Wednesday female players who dressed and acted like men were giving women's soccer a bad name and needed to nurture their feminine side.

'They need to learn how to be ladies' Ria Ledwaba head of the women's committee at the South African Football Association (SAFA) told Reuters.

'At the moment you sometimes can't tell if they're men or women.'

The national team would be given a more shapely kit to emphasise their femininity on the pitch and would swap dowdy track suits for skirts and jackets when travelling.

'Obviously they can't wear skirts on pitch... but they will be given outfits made for women with female shirts that are shaped for breasts' Ledwaba said.

SAFA would also hold etiquette workshops to turn the players -- often plucked from the streets of South Africa's sprawling townships with no schooling -- into national assets.

'We need to teach them etiquette and the importance of being a role model' said Ledwaba. 'There are mothers out there who won't let their daughters play football because they think they'll start acting like boys.'

The new outlook is part of a drive to attract untapped talent into the squad which has never competed in a world tournament and to lure sponsors.

The women's team is currently funded by mobile phone operator Vodacom which also sponsors the men's team.

But Ledwaba said she was hoping to attract extra sponsorship from companies making products for women such as toiletries.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter last year courted controversy when he urged women players to wear tighter shorts to distinguish them from men.