By Sheila Waswa with Ogova Ondego
Published January 3, 2017
It has taken them 36 months to qualify for the continental tournament for women and 14 days to secure their eighth African Women’s Cup of Nations (AWCON) championship. But, to get their dues, they have to stage a daring 14-day, attention-catching hotel sit-in in the country’s political capital.
This incident by Nigeria’s Super Falcons women’s team in December 2016 sheds light on the status of women’s football in Africa 25 years after International Federation of Football Associations (FIFA) that governs soccer affairs introduced Womens FIFA World Cup in 1991 and Confederation of African Football (CAF) followed suit with African Women’s Cup of Nations (AWCON) seven years later in 1998.
Though African women’s football seem to hold greater potential than that of its male counterpart, its development is hindered by socio-cultural stereotypes.
Super Falcons had just returned home from Cameroon where they had not just played but won the title of the 12th AWCON that had brought together eight teams–Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, South Africa, Zimbabwe and a first time appearance from Kenya–to the central African country November 19-December 3, 2016.
Super Falcons’ players, who had beaten Mali 6-0, drawn 1-1 with Ghana and triumphed over Kenya 4-0, South Africa 1-0 and Cameroon 1-0, were neither willing to relent nor back down on their demand for pay despite persuasions from the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) that their bonuses would be paid once availed by the Nigerian government.
It was only after the Nigerian government paid them their dues amounting to US$23650 of accumulated bonuses per player than the eight-time Women’s Africa Cup of Nations champions left the hotel. The team had pulled a similar stunt in a South African hotel in 2004 to demand their delayed dues.
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During their protest in Abuja, the players also pointed out that their coach, Florence Omagbemi, and her assistants, had been paid only a months salary between March and December 2016.
This incident brought to mind the plight of the Ivorian women national team that arrived in Canada for their first ever participation in the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup just three days to their biggest game due to delayed funds from their government. They conceded 10 goals from Germany.
Coach Clementine Toure attributed the humiliating defeat to lack of support of teams from respective African governments.
“I want to make an appeal to not only our federation but to all of Africa, we believe in our women, we have a good team. Today Ivory Coast showed it deserves a place in the World Cup. But we also deserved to be better prepared. We didn’t deserve to be humiliated.”
Toure also added that exposure to more matches in and outside the mother continent would help the women soccer teams improve in their playing and also improve the teams world rankings.
Coach David Ouma of Kenya’s women national team, Harambee Starlets, also cited lack of exposure and preparation as a major concern to his team ahead of its qualifying match for AWCON 2016 that took place in Algeria.
“It is very worrying because if I look at them now, their fitness levels are not where I would want them to be. I will be happy if the Federation sets up women league structures.”
Harambee Starlets was later to suffer humiliating defeat in all the three preliminary matches against Ghanas Black Queens (3-1), Malis (3-1) and Nigeria’s Super Falcons (4-0) in AWCON 2016 despite having expressed optimism and confidence that they would get to the semi finals.
Insufficient funding of women soccer teams in Africa is a major issue.
Kenya’s Harambee Starlets, for instance, has on more than one occasion withdrawn from participating in qualifying matches for the AWCON and All African Games due to lack of funds from the relevant authorities.
Due to insufficient funding, Kenya’s womens league was forced to adopt a tournament format in 2014, with teams playing once a month as opposed to the scheduled weekly fixtures in order to give time for the league to fund-raise for sponsorship in preparation for the next match. Does this ever happen to men’s football?
Apart from governments failing to set aside funds for women’s soccer, myths abound on the adverse effect football has on women players. One myth is that a woman who gets hit by the ball could develop cancer; that a soccer-playing woman develops masculinity; and that the games kit worn by women during the sport exposes parts of their bodies that should be covered.
Could this explain why sports journalists who could play a big role in popularising women’s soccer do not do it with the zeal they cover men’s soccer?
Perhaps African governments should borrow a leaf from their United States of America counterpart whose support has seen its women’s team become a three-time FIFA Women’s World Cup champion. That is quite something in a non-soccer-playing country, isn’t it?
Becky Sauerbrunn, the co-Captain of the US women’s team, while responding to Norah O’Donnell of CBS News on USA’s football federation, remarks, When you compare this federation to all other federations across the globe, they have invested the most money in this women’s program. And that’s why we’ve gotten as far as we have.”
Are African governments and CAF listening?