Once again, the Zimbabwe women’s senior soccer team had been disappointed.
The Mighty Warriors’ trip to the Ivory Coast for the first leg of the Olympic Games qualifier had been cancelled at the eleventh hour because of the Zimbabwe Football Association’s (ZIFA) failure to provide funds for the trip.
Mighty Warriors Captain, Felistas Mudzongondi did not have much to say besides expressing disappointment about how the situation was handled.
“I do not have much detail on the actual reasons on why the trip was abandoned, but all I can say is that it was painful to be informed at the last minute that we were no longer able to fulfil our fixture,” said Mudzongondi.
This is just the latest addition to a long list of ZIFA failures over the years. From Asia-gate, failure to pay former national team coach Jose Claudinei Georgini Valinhos, being disqualified from the FIFA 2018 World Cup qualifiers and the mismanagement of football funds.
Since I have become accustomed to hearing bad news about local soccer on an almost hourly basis it seems, it is not just the cancellation of the trip that aroused feelings of anger inside me. Rather, it is the reaction to the cancellation that has me worried about women’s soccer in this country.
Is women’s soccer second-class?
Legal and Administration Advisor at Aces Youth Soccer Academy (AYSA), Esther Munyati expressed concern at the lack of support for women’s soccer in the country.
“The way that women’s soccer is treated in the country is our girls’ frustration as they doubt the viability of their talent and skill, “said Munyati. AYSA is an academy that offers soccer training to both young boys and girls.
Just recently, the men’s senior soccer team pulled a stunt ahead of their CAF (Confederation of African Football) African Nations Championship (CHAN) qualifier in Malawi. This incident showed that the Warriors had the option to boycott a flight to Malawi over unpaid allowances. They chose to refuse to travel to Malawi to play a match in protest. The team eventually travelled to Malawi by bus after ZIFA increased their allowances. It is this bus trip that spawned the Zimbabwe soccer blanket challenge dubbed “The Pasuwa Challenge” which aimed to raise funds for the men’s team and their coach. A picture which captured the national team’s coach, Calisto Pasuwa carrying a 2-in-1 blanket about to board a Munorurama bus, inspired the whole country to react as one and donate money to the team. Mainstream and social media were both awash with messages of how this was an embarrassment to the nation. Many did not have kind words for the Cuthbert Dube-led mother body. Is it not ironic that ZIFA is referred to as the ‘mother’ body? No mother treats her children like that, especially her daughters!
The Warriors team had the option to boycott a flight but the female Mighty Warriors team did not even have the option to board a bus, let alone protest against unpaid allowances. This just goes to show the differences in how the two national teams are treated. Already, the female Mighty warriors have fewer fixtures to fulfill than the Warriors – should that not count when ZIFA makes budget allocations to the teams?
In most cases, when ZIFA foresees that the senior men’s team may fail to fulfil a fixture due to financial constraints, they either appeal for financial assistance or at least borrow money to make the trip and the match possible. At one point, Cuthbert Dube even put up his house as collateral to ensure that the Warriors stayed in camp to train. As much as that was not the most ideal solution, it shows the extent to which he values the national men’s team. If he has done so much for the men’s team, what stops him from doing the same or even more for the women’s team? It is not surprising that even Prophet Walter Magaya did not come to the rescue this time around.
Just last week, members of parliament spent hours trying to figure out a way to come up with a solution to pay the $81 000 owed to Valinhos as the country risked being eliminated from the 2018 World Cup qualifying round if they did not. This week, no one cared to ask why there were no efforts made to raise the $34 000 needed for the Mighty Warriors to travel to the Ivory Coast which is less than half the price of what was needed to pay Valinhos. Even after successfully disappointing the nation so many times, we found it worth discussing a way to allow the Warriors to disappoint again at the World Cup. Is it because they are men?
When Deputy Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture, Tabitha Kanengoni-Malinga is reported to have suggested that the leadership at ZIFA needed to be fired, no one listened to her. Since this could result in the elimination of all Zimbabwean soccer teams from any international football activity, many thought it was not such a good idea. But by Zimbabwean soccer teams we mean both male and female teams right? Yet we seem to treat women’s soccer as second class football. Or maybe the suggestion could not be easily accepted since it came from a woman?
Even the media doesn’t care about women’s soccer
It was also unfortunate that the cancellation of the Mighty Warrior’s trip happened a day before the Under-23’s CAF Youth Championships first leg qualifier against South Africa, a home match for Zimbabwe which allowed people to be distracted from the Mighty Warrior’s fate. Because the football community still had something to look forward to, no one remembered the Mighty Warrior’s bad news.
The media also chose to focus more on the build-up to the Young Warriors’ match. And so in less than 24 hours, the Mighty warriors had been forgotten. Yes the Young Warriors deserved their chance to shine and indeed they did try to shine, but a concerned mother would also nurse the sick child rather than burying them for dead.
In the July 19th Sunday Mail, an article about one male player, Rodrick Mutumha seems to have been given more prominence than that about the fate of an entire team of senior female players. At least they even bothered to mention it; other publications decided to remain mum on the issue.
Charles Mabika tried to give the issue airtime during his show Game Plan on ZTV last Monday, but he could have done better especially by using the correct terms. He kept using the term ‘girl child’ in reference to the senior female soccer team. Does it mean that when women are wronged they become girls? We do not even refer to Young Warriors as ‘boys’!
Mabika’s choice of panellists was also a cause for concern. Instead of inviting female soccer players or their coach, he had Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor at The Herald and former Warriors team manager Wellington Mpandare who could only discuss the topic . Having the actual female players could have allowed them to share how they felt with the nation which could have got the message across to more soccer fans of just how much of a catastrophe this was.
We have female sports reporters who could have been part of that show to discuss the plight of Mighty Warriors. ZBC’s Merit Munzwembiri, H- Metro’s Melody Gwenyambira-Doma and Chichi Sabeta, Star FM’s Yvonne Mangundya and freelancer Grace Chirumhanzu all have excellent reputations as sports reporters. Mabika has to have a very good reason why not even one of them was not invited to be on that particular show.
Are we aware of what female soccer players have to put up with?
Besides having to deal with the administrative failures of ZIFA, female players still have to deal with a society that finds it hard to accept women can pay soccer and remain as women. Zimbabwe is a homophobic society and some female players have had to experience being questioned about their sexuality. Negative comments are often passed about their appearances. Before being told that you have been training for nothing, this is what they have to deal with almost every day.
Their only wish is to represent their country in the beautiful game of football and get the same treatment as the men’s team. It is inconsiderate and irresponsible to deny them the chance to make use of the hours put in training and the sacrifices they made to attend camp. It is demeaning to be treated like you are doing a mediocre job, yet someone doing the same task is being given better treatment just because of their gender.
Being a female soccer player should not mean that one is treated as second best to a male player. It should not mean that you are less relevant than the male soccer team. The Mighty Warriors should not feel that whatever they do for the country is not good enough to earn respect and attention from the country. Playing for the national women’s team should feel like an honourable duty, not a waste of time and energy that comes second to men’s soccer.
Main image by Grace Chirumanzu