The Urgent Need for Proper Female Football Programs Nationwide…

May 14 11:07 2020

By Ebi Iyomon

A popular saying goes like this, Once made equal to man, woman becomes his superior. This can easily be equated to the level of growth the female football world is currently at.

A lot would question whether or not it is related to gender inequality, or the fact that women are more associated with some other selected sports.
Basically, I would say It’s as a result of the preference given to the male folk by the government and stakeholders in the industry which definitely aids sponsorships, revenues, publicity and avenues for quick growth.

Looking at European women’s football and the progress it has made in over the last decade, a lot of football enthusiasts might be curious as to why there’s really not as much followership now of the women’s game when compared to their male counterparts.

The problem of female football is not entirely African or European as traces of the problem it faces can be seen around the world.
Nevertheless, the popularity and level of development in these advanced nations are hallowed when juxtaposed with that of African countries. European leagues boast of the best female clubs in the world; Wolfsburg of Germany, Olympique Lyon of France, Arsenal of England, PSG of France and a lot more. The US boasts of an endless pool of talent to choose from with it’s high school and university soccer programs.

Nigeria on the other hand, despite the presence of sprawling talented female players have a non-existant system to pull through talents. A disturbed and ineffective scouting system, lack of support from the government, the NFF and stakeholders have also contributed the stagnant growth of the game.

The history of Female Football in Nigeria began in1978 with the creation of Nigeria Female Football Organizing Association
(NIFFOA) which would later be renamed in 1979 as Nigeria Female Football Proprietors Association (NIFFPA).
After the formation of NIFFPA, female clubs began to surface, with pioneering sides like Jegede Babes, Larry Angels, Kakanfo Babes, Ufuoma Babes etal in Nigeria’s initial foray into the world of female football.

One would think that for a sport that already had structures in place as far back as 1979, — even though women had already started playing football in the 1960’s — there should have been major progress undertaken in the growth of the game in the country by this time. That hasn’t been the case in recent times, rather female football is at a decline in Nigeria.

The women’s senior national team, The Super Falcons, carry an enviable status as the most successful side in Africa with eleven continental trophies as compared to their male counterparts, The Super Eagles. They are also the only women’s team from Africa to have reached the quarter-finals at the summer Olympics and the Women’s FIFA World Cup. As of 2020, the Nigerian women’s national team is ranked 38th in the world according to FIFA’s world rankings.
The Super Falcons have had sensational players don the green white green jersey over the years. Mercy Akide, Perpetua Nkwocha, Cynthia Uwak, Asisat Oshoala – all multiple winners of African Women’s Footballer of Year Awards.

On the downside, despite these achievements, protest over non- payment of salaries are a common occurrence during AWCON tournaments and the Falcons are often times treated like second fiddle in the eyes of the administrators.
While comparing the level of publicity given to the male national football teams at all levels to that of the females, the difference is quite glaring. For Participation in tournaments as minor as U-17 World Cup, the men get more publicity and coverage as compared to the Super Falcons at a Women’s World Cup. Which is quite disappointing.
Currently There are lots of factors militating against the growth of women’s football in the country , especially in the areas of leadership, policies, structure, programs, training, resource allocation, education, publicity, welfare. These have made the disparity experienced by women a lot more striking to the lay man and they can be linked to these factors:

. Stipends/Allowances
. Social Cultural Factors
. Extent of Media Coverage and Awareness
. Absence of Sponsors
. Political Tussles

Stipends/Allowances

The reward or allowances for the falcons do not match their success as they do not receive anything close to that of the men who do not match the same feat in the same class of competition.
The same applies to the women’s football league which is barely known to Nigerians, as poor player salaries and allowances encouraged by a lack of sponsorship and media coverage has led to a lot of talented players leaving our shores at the earliest opportunity which wasn’t the case some 20 years ago. In fact, the 2010 season of the women pro-league after 9 games was halted and even the Super 6 used to determine the champions of the league was not played and the season ended prematurely without a champion.
At what point will the falcons who are true sports ambassadors of Nigeria be more appreciated than they are currently?
It was heart warming when the Super Eagles won the Nations Cup in 1994, as a national holiday was declared, houses and cars were freely given to players and officials. Yet the Falcons who are perennial African Women Champions (AWC), are not celebrated nor rewarded in such manner. This goes a long way in affecting the development of female football negatively if not readdressed.

Socio-Cultural Factors

The mindset of the common African man is that women are programmed to do a particular job or take care of children alone. Pressure on women exerted through the immediate family, community, religion, media, peer groups and other sources of socialisation are often used to reinforce expected behaviour and teaching of gender roles.
Traditionally, uniquely a male domain, most attribute and cherish excellence in sports for men whilst it is seen as a distraction for women.
The western world have been able to come to terms with the fact that women can also excel in any given sports not just some selected sports. That is majorly why women like Martha of Brazil, Megan Rapinoe of the United states, Ada Hederberg of Norway, Lucy Bronze of England are celebrated. As Africans and Nigerians, women are usually relegated to the background with only a few knowledgeable families recognising their female children’s potential in taking up a career in sports. The percentage of these families is however inadequate. A factor which has be reiterated severally by top African female players.

Extent of Media Coverage and Awareness
The influence or the actual force exerted by a media message, can never be downplayed. The media can influence either a change or reinforcement in society or individual beliefs.
Therefore the media is a contributing factor to the problems faced by women. Little or no effort is done to promoting women, as the coverage is rather shallow when compared to that of men.
Competitions in which women participate in rarely get coverage and when they do, the are aired with little or no fanfare when compared to a big international or club match that will be taking place days or even weeks before. This further adds to the low percentage in followership. On radio or TV, the women’s league is rarely analysed or discussed on television or radio programmes, but that again boils down to the fact that there’s a lot of inconsistencies in the Nigerian women’s league

Absence of Sponsors

Success begets success they say and with players like Asisat Oshoala, Desire Oparanozie, Francisca Ordega, Rita Chikwelu, Onome Ebi, in the Super Falcons and the laurels achieved, one would think that there would be a plethora of sponsors knocking on their doors which can be a tool to spur women participation in football as well as change narratives of women in sports in a country whose culture is a tad sexist.
It is rather quite disappointing that no high profile company or organization has deemed any of these gifted females fit to endorse their products or brand, considering how they have flown the flag of the nation at international level.

Political Tussles
In Nigeria, politics and power control account for a noteworthy limitation to women involvement in football. Due to the fact that men wields substantial power over growth and administration of female football
Besides, men make up a large percent in female football management and administration
Thus, when it comes to formulations of policies that will aid the development of female sports is quite non existent. Same applies to the allotment and utility of resources in implementing policies and programmes for the same purpose. The men are usually employed in decision making roles with the women at the peripheral contributing little.

Now, shifting your attention to The Nigeria Women Premier League which is the top level league for women’s association football in Nigeria and women’s equivalent of the men’s league, the Nigeria Professional Football League, it portrays the developmental distance in men and female football all facing some problems This can also be noticed on the continent, as the Confederation of African football focuses fully on the men, if you consider the absence of a women’s club football competition like the CAF champions league — a competition Africa should be able to carter for at this stage.

The aforementioned disparities experienced by women basically are as a result of gender inequality.
Some might give the excuse that women’s football does not generate revenues hence the attention on men’s football. But eradicating the mindset that women do not have that the abilities to excel as much as the men in sports is salient, that way any bias or prejudice does not come in question. And when that can be achieved, government, sports administrators and even parents or guardians of these females can then see the bigger picture.

Significantly, special structures and policies need be put in place to ensure a conducive environment for the blossoming of female football. It is actually never too late for proper football and scouting programs to be set up, not excluding age grade programs.

It is obvious that the football federation has failed to make any meaningful impact on grassroots sports where the females are concerned, and this is where the efficiency of the NFF should be brought to bare. As seen in foreign countries, especially the United States where there are organized football pro games for young girls both in high schools and university levels.
Some of the best players get to be awarded Scholarships to Universities where they can actually study and play football and from that stage, they decide whether or not to take it up professionally. More often than not, the best ones end up drafted in by clubs.

Looking at this scenario, it’s shows how dire the need of a collaboration with secondary schools and tertiary institutions our football needs with regards pulling talents through the ranks. A liaison with schools will create an avenue for students to participate in regular football competitions and then progress to professional leagues.

It is therefore imperative that just as schools have the senior and junior male football teams that represent them in competitions same should go for the females. That way, as the males compete the females are also encouraged to do so.

Aside from schools, there are really no states in the country that houses well structured football programs for females which is totally contrary to what is obtainable in foreign countries where male clubs have female sides as well that compete professionally. Not only do they have professional female sides, they also boast of age grade sides likewise.

It would be a massive improvement for female football in Nigeria if conscious efforts are made to ensure the women’s game achieves its full potentials with an increase in followership, revenue generation, job opportunities and all around acceptability which is totally possible.
But it definitely will not be achieved in a moment…it will take actual and genuine planning. Like they say, “Rome was not built in a day’’ and neither will female in Nigeria.

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