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Women football taking great strides

By Clive Kyazze

Football is a game dominated by men world over and up to about the early 90s, is when women football started to attract attention.

Out of the 55 national associations in Africa, 25 countries currently have a women’s league with only four boasting of 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.

The women’s world cup final in Canada in 2015 was the most watched football match ever in USA. For the American soccer fans and the game at large, it was a great landmark.

The run away success of women’s football in USA after the team’s world cup triumph stamped a big mark on the perception of the role of women in the game.

Carli Lloyd who scored a hat trick in the final as USA beat Japan 5-2 now attracts the same endorsement deals as men and gets the same respect like any other athlete.

The questions of whether women can play football just like men, do they deserve same media attention or can they get the same pay seems to be getting satisfying answers. The growth of women’s football is evident across the globe, from USA to Australia and Germany to Japan.

Similarly, there’s delight and perhaps also certain honest surprise at the tremendous rise of women’s football in Uganda in the last two years.

From its inception in Uganda in the early1990s pioneered by Paul Ssali (former Uganda cranes player) and Mrs Rebecca Kazibwe alias “Maama Becca” (RIP), women’s football started with no defined structures.

Even when there was an attempt to start a national league in the mid 90s, it suffered a natural death due to various challenges. It was the same case with the national team which would engage in CAF competitions but later withdraw because of finances.

The latest case occurring in 2013 when the U20 team pulled out of the qualification campaign after dumping out South Sudan 22-0 on aggregate. Since the start of the women’s national league (Fufa Women Elite league), there seems to be consorted efforts to take the game to another level.

From the quality of football on display, the increased number of girls and women involved in the game, the will from the federation to develop the game to the media attention, the future of women’s football can arguably be termed bright.

Three seasons down the road and now into the fourth in the elite league, the challenges and obstacles ranging from social to economic are still numerous but that doesn’t take away the fact that women’s football has gone a great stride.

The league has provided a platform for the women to showcase their adroitness on a regular basis which has improved the level of competition.

In the inaugural edition in 2015, twelve teams took part with six in either group of Elizabeth and Victoria. However the number increased to sixteen in the second season hence give opportunity to more players.

Last year, Uganda hosted the women’s Cecafa competition at Njeru technical centre in Jinja, reviving her participation at the international level.

The Crested Cranes will took part in the 2018 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers with a preliminary tie against neighbours Kenya but lost 1-0 on aggregate.

FIFA, the world’s football governing body is also determined to developed women’s football. In 2015, one hundred thirty (130) member associations benefited from one or more of the nine FIFA development programmes targeted specifically for women’s football.

Another impressive figure is the number of girls reached through the FIFA Live your goal project- a campaign dedicated to strengthen the image of women’s football and also increase the number of women who play football.

Uganda is one of the beneficiaries of the projects receiving playing equipment and holding two FIFA live your goal projects, one in Kampala in 2015 and recently in May last year in Mbale.

With the creation of the league, the game had spread across different regions of the country having teams like Olila High School and Western United from Soroti and Mbarara district respectively.

Besides, when Sandra Nabweteme was crowned Fufa female footballer in 2015 and awarded with a brand new car, many girls have worked hard to attain similar glory with the recent being Fazilah Ikwaput.

Nabweteme has since moved to USA where she earned a scholarship at the South West Oklahoma State University because of her footballing talent.

Ikwaput who was crowned the Female player of year and rewarded with a brand new car aged 19 drives. A thing that is not common for majority of the Ugandans regardless of where they work.

Very many initiatives have been put in place to make sure more girls are attracted to the game. Fufa this year started a knockout competition (FUFA Women Cup).

Crested cranes midfielder, Jean Sseninde who plies her trade at Crystal Palace Ladies Football club in England started an annual tournament last year that is aimed at tapping more talent and give chance to the less privileged young talented girls.

The Challenges

Much as there has been rapid success registered, the challenges to women’s football are numerous ranging from social, cultural to economic.

Culture

Football is widely regarded as a men’s game thus very many parents are not yet used to the fact of seeing their daughters taking part.

More so in the African setting where sports is not treated as a treasurable venture, many girls/women end up discouraged.

Economic factor

Sports industry still faces an enormous challenge of inadequate funding thus sustaining a team becomes difficult.

Most of the teams in the Fufa women elite league struggle to raise transport, allowances for the players and meeting the basic needs.

Other challenges include; societal stereotypes, lack of proper football structures, poor/lack of infrastructures (stadiums), low interest from government to invest in the sports sector.

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