Women’s participation ‘critical’ for COSAFA

By John Tuerijama

THE active inclusion of national women football teams in the annual COSAFA championship is critical to the development of the sport for national associations within the region.

Just recently the Namibia Football Association (NFA)’s Normalisation Committee withdrew the national under-17 women’s team from the inaugural COSAFA championship scheduled for Mauritius, a situation that did not augur well with the NFA women’s department.

The national under-17 women team’s technical committee had their dreams of competing at the regional tournament dashed because of lack of funding after the youthful side endured weeks of intense training at the technical centre.    

Quoted by local media on the withdrawal, head of the NFA women’s desk, Jacqui Shipanga, said the players were already in camp after having attended training over the past three weeks and that they were only informed last week that there were no funds.

She added that the news was devastating to the 50 hopefuls in camp, adding that all necessary requirements were submitted to the NC on time. A disappointed Shipanga further said had they known that the funds will not be available they could have sacrificed the national under-20 squad.

She said their efforts were in tangent with NFA’s approach after having convinced FIFA to help them build the Girls Centre, which caters for the development of the women’s game.

Responding to questions on the withdrawal of the national under-17 team, COSAFA vice president Frans Mbidi said the regional football competitions under the auspices of the regional body is critical to the development of national teams in any countrywide associations.

“Also the fact that the zonal unions is now organising these boys and girls youth tournaments annually  really assists the process of developing the sport and preparing our teams for CAF and FIFA qualifiers at a very reasonable cost to the national associations.

“Furthermore, the FIFA Forward Regulations have a tick box system and associations must participate in a minimum of four matches with their women’s and youth teams in the various categories in order to qualify for Forward funding,” he stressed.

On the emotional and psychological effect of the sudden cancellation on the young players, the COSAFA vice president said it was indeed sad when the teams have been prepared and the players’ expectations were raised ahead of the tournament, only to be dashed at the last minute.

“However, these things do happen and it is important that the technical team maintains a positive attitude, encourage and motivate the players for the next tournament.”

Mbidi added that the employment of sport psychologists in the set-up of national football teams is more needed at senior level, where national teams preparing for zonal, continental or qualifier matches or tournaments and players come together for the pre-match tournament camp for only short periods before they are expected to gel as a team.

The former NFA president added that tournament- and qualifier matches can be stressful environments and in such circumstances having a psychologist available to mentally prepare the team is a good idea. “Rugby and cricket do it, why not football?” he asked.

Asked if the introduction of the various women’s championships by COSAFA was part of increasing mass participation of women footballers, Mbidi said he did not necessarily see that as the main objective but it would hopefully be a by-product of their focus on women’s football.

On the lack of proper sport facilities in the regions, such as the high performance centres, the vice president said most African countries do not enjoy the luxury of high performance centres with a few exceptions.

“There may be barriers to entry, so whilst having regular access will undoubtedly have a bearing on performance, the lack thereof has not affected the wealth of talent on the continent,” he emphasised.

With South Africa arguably the leading SADC country in terms of sport infrastructure, Mbidi said these are costly resources and if one can enjoy such facilities, regional football associations should take full advantage of it rather than berate their respective governments for not providing such.

On the promotion of women’s football to reach the level of their West African counterparts, he said regular competition is key and that has started with the COSAFA region. Fully utilising the FIFA Forward Funding is also imperative as the COSAFA tournament includes an educational aspect, such female referee courses and D-License coaching courses, specifically for female coaches and administrators.