The neglect of women’s football
When the women’s football league was introduced some years back, football die-hards were optimistic that it marked the beginning of better things to come especially that organisers were able to rope in sponsors. But things have gotten out of hand and the league is in inexorable decline. Where did we miss the plot?
Just this past month, the whole of the African continent witnessed the Women African Championships; unfortunately this nation was not represented. The national senior women’s team failed to go past the preliminary round as they were reduced to minced meat by their neighbours Banyana Banyana of South Africa via an embarrassing 10-0 score-line.
If anything this served to confirm that women’s football is not taken seriously especially by the mother-body, the Botswana Football Association (BFA), as the team’s failure in the prefatory stages had the coach publicly declaring that they never prepared for the games.
It is highly unlikely the men’s team preparing for any important tournament would travel without having had a camp. Even in the face of financial constraints the BFA would always try by all means to source funds to at least play against Lesotho or Swaziland, for example. Why is the same not happening with the ladies?
As it stands the women’s league is played with nothing at stake for the winners. Ever-since founding sponsor AT & T Monnakgotla Travel& Tours pulled out two seasons ago, the poor ladies have been struggling to secure a deal. Playing for nothing in the league could lead to poor showing by the national team especially when they face their opponents from countries with better organised women’s leagues.
In fact there is no competition in our league, hence the sub-standard performance by our girls. Who knows maybe they don’t even train midweek; they just meet on match-day. This is not good enough. The country will not benefit anything from the league apart from producing mediocre players who will bring back our old tag of the ‘Weeping girls of Africa’.
When the campaigns for the BFA committee elections were reaching the crescendo in July, the then Chairperson for the league Senki Sesinyi, who was eyeing one of the National Executive Committee (NEC) posts, when engaged by this publication about the future of the women’s league, called for calm saying he had found sponsorship that was to be launched soon. But until now we are still waiting for that momentous thing to happen, or was it just the traditional way of gaining undeserved political mileage: making promises you cannot keep?
Efforts to get hold of Sesinyi for an update on how far he has gone with the sponsorship promise, failed this week as his mobile number was off.
However, it is no secret that playing in ‘’cashless’ league has proven in the past that it is a heavy load on the shoulders of the clubs; teams have de-registered from the league as it was a financial drain on them.
With women’s football in catch 22 situations one would have thought that around $US700,000 grants that were released by FIFA as the bonus after the World Cup would help avert the situation, but that is not the case. BFA President Tebogo Sebego made it clear at the general meeting in July that women’s football would not get a percentage from those monies as the cake was already divided.
When this publication engaged him on Wednesday this week, he said they were concerned, as the over-seers, about the state of the league, adding that they were in negotiations with some potential investors to partner with in the league. Should Batswana expect something or he is just playing games like Sesinyi did some months ago?
The teams have made their plea to the public that they are traversing a rocky terrain in their bid to bring women’s football at par with the men’s premier league but it appears that it is a ‘foetal ambition’. Teams like Township Rollers, who are financially well off compared to other teams, are likely to survive the challenges.
Double Action, who used to be Queens of the Jungle when there was a sponsorship, are now struggling. Rollers are currently at the summit of the log, a clear sign that the problem is money at the league.
During the reign of Monnakgotla, as the headline sponsor, the league had the charm as the teams were organised during match-days – but that is history now. Teams came on time for the games and it was rare to hear that a team did not show up for the games.
Players were also exported to countries like Zimbabwe. Star player Bonang ‘Bebeto’ Otlhagile is a case in point, and this was made possible because scouts used to come to Botswana to look for players, which was a good thing for the growth of women’s football.
However, with Sebego’s statement that “women should expect something” better as they are still cooking something in the oven, all is not lost. Hopefully his promise will not remain a promise for eternity.
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AFRICAâ€™S RECOVERY: Sports as game changer
The year 2022 witnessed unprecedented phenomena. Several Africans- Gotytom Gebreslase, Sharon Lokedi, Victor Kiplangat, Tamarit Tola and many others- swept the Worldâ€™s marathons records.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the resulting control measures implemented in several countries, led to many high-level sports competitions being cancelled or shelved, the Dakar 2022 Youth Olympic Games was moved to 2026.
Founder and Executive Chairman, African Sports and Creative Institute, Will Mabiakop, says the inability to hold traditional and amateur sports events have had a serious effect on public health overall, including mental health, sparking a revolution whereby athletes began to talk more openly about stress, mental overload and performance anxiety.
â€śAfrica is home to the fastest growing economies before the crisis, no longer on track to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). COVID-19 deepened interdependence between SDGs, making them harder to achieve, especially SDG 10 (reducing inequality) and SDG 5 (gender equality_ as the pandemic had a disproportionate impact on poorer countries, and heavier burdens (such as care work) fell to women.â€ť
Mabiakop stresses that as policymakers contemplate actions to speed up recovery and build resilience, they must argue that sports and creative businesses should play a central feature in this effort.
â€śThe sports economy worldwide is estimated at 5% of GDP, but only 0.5% in Africa. If exploited, Africaâ€™s sports and creative industries can offer policymakers innovative solutions. Especially, as regards job creation, and providing employment to the 15 million people entering the job market annually.â€ť
HOW CAN THE INDUSTRY DO THIS?
By leveraging the two-for-one concept: past studies shown that a 1% growth in the economy delivers a 2% job increment in this sector (these ratios are calculated using data from 48 African countries and adjusted to the reality of the sports economy in Africa by the authors). There are between 30 and 50 job types, in sports and creative industries, respectively. These jobs do not fade away with the first major shock.
Mabiakop indicated that policymakers can use these industries to tackle multiple crises- jobs, poverty, and climate risks. Sports diplomacy- defined as communication, representation and negotiation in or through the prism of sports- has proven effective in building inclusive and cohesive societies. Moreover, sports and the creative industry can support better mental health and well-being, both important for productivity.
â€śPolicymakers can also be true to the game by leveraging culture and tradition to celebrate identity and reap commercial value in sports, textiles and jewelry. Creative sectors allow deeper connection with culture, are not easily copied and provide great economic potential.â€ť
He said supporting grassroots sports has powerful distributional effects. â€śFortunately, technology has made reaching wide audiences easier, generating higher rates of success when talent is discovered.â€ť
However, Mabiakop held that potential pitfalls must be highlighted. â€śFirst avoid build it and they will come policies with infrastructures denuded from the rest of the ecosystem. Like the many sports stadiums left largely unused.â€ť
â€śPolicymakers must remain mindful of how these sectors move the needle in human capital development. Also, align the requisite public policies needed for progress from grassroots participation to professional sports, and even to international sporting events. They should also support investment instruments to render these sectors performant.â€ť