By Anesu Chakanetsa
THIS year has been a wake-up call for women who think they cannot take football as a career that can uplift their lives.
After South Africa won the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (WAFCON) recently held in Morocco, the South African Football Association announced that women are now going to be paid the same wages and allowances as men.
In Europe, England won the Women’s Euro after beating Germany.
Events from the two and other events that have been happening around the world this year speak volumes on how football has evolved for women.
And one would not believe that women were once stoned for playing football in Europe, not in Africa.
The first recorded women’s football match took place on May 9 1881, when two teams competed at Easter Road Stadium in Edinburgh.
It was advertised as a ‘Scotland vs England international match’.
Back in 1881, female players had to wear corsets every day, heeled boots and even bonnets in order to maintain the Victorian standards of decency.
This made it very difficult to move freely.The Scottish team was called Mrs Graham’s XI.
The goalkeeper, Helen Graham Matthews (a suffragette), had formed the Scottish team but preferred to be known by her pseudonym, Mrs Graham, because of the prejudice against female players in Victorian times.
The players were often harassed on and off the pitch and many tried to keep their identity a secret for their own safety.
On May 20 1881, the teams met again in Glasgow, but it was reported the match was abandoned due to a pitch invasion, when the players were treated ‘roughly’ and chased by an angry mob.
Newspapers echoed the public’s derision aimed at women’s football, and every aspect of the sport was criticised including the players’ appearance, clothing and the standard of play.
They concluded that football was a ‘man’s game’.
Further attempts to stage women’s matches in Scotland also spurred pitch invasions, leading to a subsequent ban on the sport in Scotland for many years.
It wasn’t until 1971 that it was officially recognised after the Scottish Women’s Football Association was launched.
In Africa football began smoothly and was transmitted peacefully to women.
Africans have always shown a high degree of athleticism and events at the WAFCON 2022 showed how much the game has evolved in the continent.
Although South Africa are alleged to have reached the finals ‘dubiously’, the team will be remembered for its swift ball passing and energy.
They beat the host Morocco 2–1 in the final.
Yes, the tournament was a success but unlike in Europe, support for women’s football is still lacking.
In April, more than 91 000 fans packed the Nou Camp in Spain to watch Barcelona beat Wolfsburg in the Women’s Champions League.
A week later, more than 21 000 spectators were at St James’ Park in Egland to watch Newcastle United beat Alnwick Town 4-0 in the fourth tier of English women’s football.
Chelsea manager Emma Hayes (one of the sport’s biggest stars) says the women’s game can learn from its male counterpart in order to take things further.
“Men’s football’s had a high level of funding for at least 25 years, so we know it’s a product – we know how to sell it worldwide,” she said.
“We’ve always sold our sport so cheaply.
“That’s to get numbers in, but I think we have to reconsider that model.”
The World Cup is going to be co-hosted by New-Zealand and Australia next year, but issues of time zones between the Australasia countries and the whole world might affect viewership.
World football governing body FIFA has already expanded the next World Cup to a 32-team tournament for 2023, to reflect the growth of the women’s game, but the appetite to host in 2027 will be another indicator of the sport establishing itself as one that is increasing its audience at an exhilarating pace.
For Zimbabwe, women’s football has of late been not impressive.
The Mighty Warriors (Zimbabwe) were defeated by minnows Botswana in the WAFCON qualifiers.
Ironically, Zimbabwe qualified for the 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, in what was seemingly a first step towards international recognition.
Provided there was consistency, and the talent that the nation carries, Zimbabwe would have built a team that ‘no one would want to play against’.
The WAFCON Champions Banyana Banyana (South Africa) won because they were the strongest team out of all that were at the tournament.
This is because they have a well-sponsored functional league.
In Zimbabwe, the match commissioner doesn’t pocket much and teams are struggling to fulfill fixtures.
The Women National Soccer League is being run in deafening secrecy.
Perhaps the Gerald Mlotshwa-led Sports and Recreational Commission must look into such matters.
The 2019 defending champions Black Rhinos Queens and seven other clubs that include Black Mambas Queens, Correctional Queens, Harare City Queens, Herentals Queens, Conduit Soccer Academy and Yadah Queens are based in Harare.
Bulawayo sides Borrow Jets and Hearts of Oak, Mutare sides Faith Drive and Mutare City Rovers, Gweru-based clubs MSU Queens, Chipembere Queens, Chapungu Queens and Chegutu side Scorpion Queens complete the list of the participants in the national league.
The women’s game, like the men’s game, also needs better funding and women need to play in better stadia.
No doubt women football is improving at a blistering pace around the world.
Zimbabwe must not lag behind.