As a woman who works in football on the African continent for roughly 10 years, cultural factors and stereotyping is still a major factor influencing the sport.
Every now and then a story will emerge with coaches, administrators or fans speculating on a female player’s sexuality, yet the men’s game is free of this nonsense. But this is not the only issue that still plagues the women’s game or women in football. Where are the academies, sponsors and endless scholarship programmes that deem girls worthy of participating in the greatest sport on earth?
A girl wishing to participate more often than not, sucks it up and begins playing football with the boys in the community. The love of the game usually begins thanks to the role models. For me it was the regular football watching and listening with dad and sisters. Kicking the ball around with the neighbours and cousins was a regular occurrence. Many a footballer will tell you the same thing, male or female.
Males have a pathway to success whereas the women, are getting by with mostly informal leagues or matches, maybe a school league and with little or no professional coaching.
Women are finding ways to excel through scholarships to the US or elsewhere. They are earning degrees or finding other jobs and careers to pay their way with football being a part-time pursuit.
Nigeria has an appetite for football, youth football and women’s football often surpass the interest of even the NPFL and yet the resources dedicated to the women’s game is limited. Even under these circumstances, there are ladies teams that excel over and above the mens. Ask Banyana Banyana.
Desiree Ellis, then assistant Banyana Banyana coach, was a guest at the interactive talk show Diski Nites in May 2016. On the topic of pro leagues she said:
“The question should not only be about the players. Do we have enough capable coaches and administrators for the women’s game? Again, I don’t think so,” the ex-Banyana skipper continued.
“What is clear is that the talent is there. We are producing some really talented women footballers, but this talent will need to be managed.
“I think we need another few years, through a lot of workshops to make sure we cover all the aspects needed to make it national, I have no doubt that we will make (the pro league) a success.”
Whether her stance has changed since taking over the team, remains to be seen.
In truth, when a fair number of leagues in Africa have yet to run the male leagues or even their national teams professionally and without constant changes and political interference, the women’s game will always suffer. The Ghana Premier League has developed a reputation for regularly changing the goalpost with something as simple as scheduling. Kenya has conflict with who runs the league every now and then. Sponsorship is an on, off affair and payment for players and administrators can be considered ‘optional’ at the best of times.
Skilled coaches and backroom staff is also lacking in most ‘professional’ leagues. With these and other issues, does women’s football stand a chance?
The answer is yes! Against all odds, women are becoming a driving force in the game, they are becoming the champions for change and with the limited doors opened, they are still taking their opportunities. Girls are playing more football than before despite the ongoing challenges against, family, religion, culture and discrimination.
The women’s game and women in football has grown over the past decade and the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada proved this to be the case. The tournament in 2015 broke attendance records for all FIFA competitions aside from the men’s equivalent. The digital stats saw 20 million unique visitors to the FIFA website and 19 million views on YouTube. In short the appetite for the women’s game is growing.
Yet how many across the continent know Rinsola Babajide, Asisat Oshoala, Amanda Dlamini, or Patricia Mantey? How many female administrators or referees can one think of in African football?
We should know them, we should pay attention. The women’s game is growing and these are the superstars that women in football should strive to be.
Women in administration positions and women on the pitch can be a driving force for the rejuvenation of the men’s game and it will be the nation that gets past its own ego, challenges or sterotypes that implements sound structures for both the men’s and women’s game that will become the powerhouse of African football.
The talent is there, the skills are there, it is how we choose to use it that makes all the difference.