The Mighty Warriors qualified for the 2016 Olympic Games after beating Cameroon 1-0 in yesterday’s qualifiers. This was a momentous occasion for the nation as our women’s soccer team made history by becoming the first national team to qualify for the Olympics since 1980 when the then women’s national hockey team, the ‘Golden Girls’, qualified for the Olympic Games held in Russia. Sunday’s victory was a welcome relief for the soccer fans across the nation who had been disappointed by our beleaguered ZIFA .
For once, Zimbabwe would be making headlines for the right reasons.
The news stirred a vibe across media and within hours of the match, one particular message had gone viral via Whatsapp.
“Dai maMighty Warriors akanohura kuBrazil ikoko vouya nemimba kuti tiwanewo vatambi kwavo vebhora.”
(If only the Mighty Warriors were would get pregnant in Brazil so that they bring us proper (male) soccer players.”
A comical jibe at the Warriors who have not been doing as well as their female counterparts, right?
This message carries a heavy misogynistic undertone of belittling women, sexually objectifying them and putting them back in ‘their place’ in their traditional role as ‘baby makers’. Maybe they will give birth to a team of male players who can also qualify for the World Cup.
Will women in professional football be as valued as their male counterparts?
Owing to range of reasons – including lack of popular coverage of the women’s game – women’s football is just not as popular as men’s football. We all know who Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar are, but how many people know who Marta, Sydney Leroux or Alex Morgan are? While it is commonly known that Germany won the 2014 World Cup, Spain in 2010 and so on, not many people would know that the USA won the Women’s World Cup in July this year. Up until the point where it was announced that the Mighty Warriors had qualified for the Olympics, a significant number of people probably did not know that the qualifier matches were even taking place, myself included! Furthermore, I could not even name one player in our women’s national team.
Some will say that women’s football is not as popular because the game is a traditionally male-dominated. Others will point out that ‘the reason’ why women’s football is not as popular is that while men support other men, women themselves don’t support women’s soccer as much as they could. Others may also cite biological reasons; women are not as fast and dynamic as their male fellows, they will say. Therefore, their game may not be as interesting. And others will not give women’s football a chance at all for no reason whatsoever.
Unequal access to resources
What these arguments fail to acknowledge is that women’s soccer has not been as well funded and well developed as men’s soccer. Look at our schools in Zimbabwe as a basic example, the one that I attended and so many others did not give as much attention to girls’ football. While the boys’ team was the crowning glory of the school, we received the deflated balls,we were allocated the uneven and substandard field and even had to borrow our uniform from the boys’ basketball team. Also, very few tournaments were organised.
This is just one example that mirrors how often women’s teams are ignored and neglected. It therefore becomes inaccurate to claim that women’s sports are inferior to men’s sports when access to resources and opportunities is not equal.
The international governing body of soccer itself has often been guilty of perpetuating the gender divide in the game and belittling women in sports. For one, Sepp Blatter, the President of FIFA did not bother to attend the 2015 Women World Cup Final as he usually does for the men’s cup. Furthermore when asked how popularity of women’s football could be improved, Blatter’s crass response was, “Let the women play in.. tighter shorts” because “female players are pretty.”
How does one take women in the sport seriously after such a comment?
As if the chauvinism was not evident enough already, while men played on natural grass, at the 2015 World Cup, women had to play on artificial turf, a surface which players described as a “nightmare”. Artificial turf is harder than grass and generally poses a greater injury risk because the soft tissues of your leg take the full impact of its force. When women protested, FIFA threatened those who did with suspension. Clearly the governing body of FIFA itself does not treat women at par with the male players.
Will women’s soccer ever be as respected as men’s soccer?
Football’s appeal is premised on the fact that it is universal. Therefore, in its universality, it is not acceptable for half of the world’s population to remain marginalised and treated as inferior. From grassroots levels in schools to leadership in football governing bodies, more opportunities and resources should be channelled towards women in sport. The Mighty Warriors’ achievement has cast the spotlight on women’s football in Zimbabwe and they have proven clearly that our female football players have the capacity to shine on an international stage. The onus is now on ZIFA, the Olympic Committee and the nation to support the team and respect them as worthy players. They are flying the nation’s flag on high and deserve all the support they can get.
Main Image taken from www.bulawayo24.com