NIGERIA WOMEN FOOTBALL: THE WAY FORWARD

BY IHUNANYA OKOYE
Female football in Nigeria has suffered setbacks in recent years such as poor followership from Nigerians and negligence of all sorts from football administrators.
Female footballers on their part have beeen maltreated in various ways by club owners and coaches who use them to accomplish their ambitions and later discard them like an abandoned property
The trend has spanned over the years with little or nothing done to improve the situation.
It is grossly appalling to hear stories of female footballers who defied odds from their families and friends only to venture into a huge passsion called football and later return empty handed to face jeers and sarcasm from the same people
Moreover, the neglect and steady abandonement of female footballers in Nigeria was brought to limelight in 2016 when the popular story hit the airwaves of  how the senior women national team, the Super Falcons were humiliated after winning the Africa Women Cup of Nations trophy in Cameroon  that year.
The Super Falcons were visibly abandoned with nothing. Stories emanated of how they were mistreated when they came back to Nigeria which made the team lodge in a hotel for weeks in protest of non – payment of allowances and bonuses.
What a continental shame for African champions.
However, in huge contrast, we all recall the victorious Nigeria senior male national team, the Super Eagles who won the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa.
They were paid allowances and bonuses even if it was not complete. Besides, some wealthy Nigerians and private companies all gave them monetary gifts to congratulate them for their victory but our women who did the same thing had to protest to the whole world before the federal government intervened
The Nigeria women under 20 and under 17 teams known as Falconets and Flamingoes respectively are not left out as they have also frustratingly represented Nigeria in major competitions
Coming down to the Nigeria Women Football League ( NWFL), players there cut a frustrsting look each time they narrate their plight. Some of them are afraid to talk to the press due to the constant threat they get from their club owners and coaches but trust crafty Journalists who will somehow expose the injustice meted to the ladies
I was an eye witness to the hardship of female footballers in Nigeria as i saw sometime ago a clubside in the NWFL, Abia Angels players trekk from their hostel to where they train. I watched as the players of Abia Angels arrived their training venue looking tired and i wondered how the players will train again having trekked a long distance. The plight of the ladies caught my attention as well as other Journalists which made us hammer steadily on various media outlets that led to the intervention of the Abia state government who purchased a Hiace bus for the team. I also scooped from a close source that the team most times squat in the house of people when they travel for away matches. Well, this is a typical example of what other female clubsides are passing through in the NWFL; a big contrast to their male counterparts in the NPFL.
Besides that, players in the NWFL always complain of non – payment of salaries how much more bonuses and allowance. In addition, most of the NWFL players did not sign official contracts which makes it almost impossible for them to get sign on fees.
Just like the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) enjoyed a bit of transformation in the hands of the League Management Company ( LMC), the NWFL is currently undergoing its own transformation under the board chairperson, Aisha Falode.
Truly, Aisha Falode has injected positive ideas into the NWFL despite the challenges so far. She tried her best to change the old trend of how the NWFL was run by setting new agenda for the 2018 season. In a communique released March 2018, the NWFL board led by Aisha Falode amonggst other resolutions agreed that the minimum transfer fee for players in the league is 200,000 and 100,000 for pro – league players which is applaudable but the board did not state categorically how much the clubs will pay the players monthly. n contrast, we recall vividly how the LMC made it mandatory for all clubs in the NPFL to pay their least player 150,000.
Having observed that, the board Of the NWFL should please be thorough in handling the welfare packages of female footballers in Nigeria because that is where the bone of contention lies. I also believe that an improved well arranged welfare package in the NWFL will bring out the best in the players which will also extend to the female national teams.
Aside from the welfare package, the board of the NWFL should also fashion out a way to publicise the women league in Nigeria. Few years ago, it was broadcast in some media houses in Nigeria that the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) will start showing NWFL games on Television but that story died immediately it was reported.
However, that dead story can be revived again if only the board of the NWFL present or in future can work out plans on how to make it a reality.
The idea is that if the NWFL is shown on Television constantly; it will open doors for sponsorships and equally expose our ladies to the world which will help in developing our league. Also, most of the players who were not called up to various women national teams in the country will have an opportunity to show their skills if the Television broadcast of the NWFL is implemented. Moreover, the project requires a holistic effort from the Nigeria Football Federation ( NFF), Football administrators, private companies and well-meaning Nigerians for  it to be a success. It is high time Nigerians and indeed the world saw ladies playing in the NWFL.
To show its commitmeent to the course of developing female football in Africa, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) held a symposium in Morocco where issues militating against the development of female football were raised and suggestions were made on how to correct them. Some of the issues touched on:
 a. Sponsorship
 b. Governance
 c. Media coverage,
 d. Competitions (such as the establishment of CAF Club competitions for women and the expansion of female football in Africa)
These are what we have been clamouring for and now that the issues have been raised, we hope that its executions will not take long.
Before i drop the pen, i want to use this avenue to commend CAF for changing the trend of not allowing female footballers make brief speeches after they receive the award for the best player in the continent during the annual CAF Awards. It was not the case in the past but in 2017 CAF Awards, Asisat Oshoala was allowed to make a brief speech. I just pray it continues because there is a popular aphorism that says ” that what is good for the goose is also good for the gander”. It is true that gender inequality is rampant in sports but let us not allow it to destroy the passion our ladies have for the sport. Besides, it is also time to close the gap a little.

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