The way and manner women footballers are looked down upon and abandoned in this country leave much to be desired. The female national teams have no doubt, won more laurels and made Nigerians proud than their male counterparts. One is thus, baffled and surprised that these girls are being neglected and abandoned- from the state up to the federal level, the story is the same.
The qualifiers for All Africa Games and the Olympics will soon begin and the girls will give it their all to make sure they qualify for these two events. Our ladies have never disappointed their teaming supporters who believe in them. They have really brought joy to football supporters and indeed all Nigerians since the inception of female football in the country.
It is no longer news that these girls were the first to qualify for the Senior World Cup even before their male counterparts. The girls have presented Nigerians with trophies when their male counterparts were not forthcoming.
They have conquered Africa when their male folks were struggling to conquer their region, and have played a brand of football which is purely made in Nigeria with European touch.
In retrospect, 2014 was a superb year for the female national teams. The girls went, saw and conquered. The year started with our girls going to U-17 World Cup in Costa Rica and doing the nation proud by getting to the quarter-final stage of the tournament.
The U-20 girls picked up the baton and went to the World Cup in Canada where they did excellently well. Though they did not beat the record set by the class of 2010 players in Germany who got to the final, they emerged silver medallists in style as they picked individual awards and a star was born in the person of newly acquired Liverpool of England striker, Asisat Oshoala.
After that superlative performance by the U-20’s, the senior team, the Super Falcons went to Namibia against all odds and won the Africa Women Championship (AWC) trophy for a record 7th time, thereby qualifying for the World Cup in Canada.
Falcons won the trophy in the hardest and most trying time in Nigeria football .They were proper ambassadors who rose up to the occasion. They played with all their hearts even when their bonuses were not paid and there was no trouble back home. Recall what their male counterparts did when they had issues with their bonuses during the FIFA Confederation Cup in Brazil?
Our girls are not like that as they are ever ready to make the country proud again. They are always ready to fly the nation’s flag high during all tournaments and championships that are up for grabs. But the very burning question is: who will rescue female football in the country and sponsor these girls for the professionals that they are?
The bulk of these girls play in our local league and methinks it’s high time sponsors get involved in our female football project. I wonder why sponsors did not leverage on the successes the girls achieved last year to enter into partnership with the league and by extension the national teams.
Success, they say, begets success but I wonder why no telecommunications company or any high profile company has deemed it fit to use one female player to endorse their products. Is it that these companies did not see these successes or it is because they are not “Jay Jays or Kanu Nwankwos?” Players like Asisat Oshoala and Desire Oparanozie are reigning sensations in the country now since we cannot boast of any of their male counterparts making exploits, yet there is no single advert on television or anywhere with their names on it.
I also see adverts and campaigns where some ex-male footballers are the main feature and I wonder why a living legend like Perpetual Nkwocha is not being celebrated in such campaigns.
Perpertua Nkwocha, a lady who has been decorated as African Female Footballer of the Year for a record four times has been relegated to the background. With sadness I watch television and see montages of that moment when Super Eagles’ then captain, Joseph Yobo lifted the 2013 AFCON trophy and I ask: what happened to the clip where Evelyn Nwabuoku lifted the trophy Falcons won last October 2014?
Does it mean these television stations do not have that clip of a team who won a trophy for a record seven times or something fishy is going on when it comes to promoting and celebrating our female footballers? This goes to show how female football and its players are looked down upon in this country.
The Federal Government, Nigerians, nay the organised private sector must all come together to repositioning women football in the country. It should not be left in the hands of the Nigeria Football Federation alone. Agreed that NFF is the custodian of football in Nigeria, but it’s every body’s business to see that women football rises above where it is at the moment.
Motivation must come from the Federal Government that is always filled with pride and are given the bragging rights each time these girls do the nation proud. The Government must play its role very well by creating a balance between the female and male national teams.
They should both be treated the same way, both in rewards and recognition and removing any form of discrimination against the female teams.
The time for sponsors to act is now. They should take advantage of the successes recorded by the various female national teams. There should be no fear whatsoever in sponsoring the women league or the national teams because I dare say that it will not be an effort in futility.
Chairperson of the Nigeria Women League, Dilichukwu Onyedinma stated that non-sponsorship of the league is not peculiar to women league alone and that her board is really working hard in talking to sponsors to come and invest in the league.
They should be encouraged in sponsoring a League that has produced the likes of Perpetua Nkwocha, Desire Oparanozie and more recently, Asisat Oshoala and more talents will definitely emerge. To even think that Oshoala was not the league highest goal scorer last season means that with corporate sponsorship of the league more “Oshoalas” will be discovered.
In pursuit of gender equality in Nigerian football, government at all levels and the Nigeria Football Federation should create an enabling environment for unfettered participation of our girls in the largesse and recognition that comes with the game in the country.
Similarly, those factors which militate against our girls, especially in the areas of leadership, policies, structure, programmes, training, resource allocation, education, training, publicity, welfare and health issues, must be eliminated.
The attainment of gender equality in our football will afford Nigeria the opportunity to actualise the vast potential that Nigerian women constitute to take the game to the next level.
Gracious Akujobi, Super Falcons Media Officer, writes from Abuja. [myad]