Two and a half decades after taking part in the Fifa Women’s World Cup for the first time, African teams are yet to make their mark. Goal investigates
African players have been travelling far and wide in search of developing their football talents and to establish their football careers, yet the national teams have found themselves unable to shine on the global stage and many nations are still without a professional league.
Out of the 55 national associations in Africa, 25 countries currently have a women’s league with only four boasting well-organized, quality competitions like Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon and South Africa. However, associations across the continent are faced with walkovers and cricket score-lines, while there are significant problems arising regarding players’ welfare, finances, poor structures, infrastructure and visibility with the male version of the game being a priority for all stakeholders.
This often forces players to overseas leagues or quitting the game prematurely.
Fran Hilton-Smith, South Africa’s head of women’s football, feels women’s sport is underinvested in and undervalued at all levels across the continent, and that “lack of finances and interest” are the key problems in the African women’s game.
Hoping to show Africa the way with a suitable league in her home country, Smith while working with Fifa, has been observing and learning from former and current world Champions namely Germany and the United States.
“I came back [to South Africa] and based our league structure like them”, said Smith.
“We have nine provinces and 53 regions and each of them with 16 teams that play in the Sasol League and sponsored by Sasol. With the sponsorship of Sasol, it has kept the league growing.”
Unlike South Africa, Kenya currently has no organised structure. But Nairobi-based sports journalist Julia Wanjeri exonerates current FA president Nick Mwendwa, saying that, “For a long time the women’s game in Kenya has been a grassroots affair with nothing much at the national level. But things are changing since Mwendwa took office in 2016”.
“Harambee Starlets qualifying for its first Africa Women’s Cup of Nations in Cameroon, played international friendlies, finished second in Cecafa, [the] U20 Junior Starlets revived, and the league played for two seasons in a row though struggling for finances like any other league”, she pointed out.
Nigeria, the most successful and highest ranked team in Africa, “have coaches with poor education who don’t have the qualification and requisite experience to handle a women’s team, while others, especially ex-internationals only attend coaching courses in order to get national team jobs”, says Nigeria’s veteran coach Dan Evbumena.
In a contrary view, Smith, who is a Caf instructor said: “I’ve helped in the development of women’s coaches in Africa in over eight coaching courses but the problem is that the coaches are not given a chance to coach except for few of them that had gone to coach in a league or national set-ups like some from Nigeria, Ghana, and Ethiopia. We have good coaches but they are often not giving the opportunities to coach in their countries.”
Additionally, African players are still facing stigma and misogynistic abuse. Players abandon the African leagues for overseas’ clubs owing to cultural factors and neglect, and that “the problem is lack of sponsorship, motivation, poor welfare, and belief that we can never make a difference with our talents,” says Tobiloba Windapo, an Equatorial Guinea International based in Nigeria.
Women’s football stakeholders will be hoping matters affecting women’s game will be discussed and solutions found during the African football symposium billed for Rabat, Morocco later this month under the watch of new Caf president Ahmad Ahmad.