What you need to know:
- The last time Starlets qualified for Wafcon was in 2016 against Algeria.
A week ago when Harambee Starlets were at home for their 2024 Women's Africa Cup of Nations qualifying match against Botswana, I was enjoying the game at the stands where most of the fan action happens and where the game analysis and comments about players is rawest.
I watched quietly as the girls turned away uncomfortably and ignored the silly comments that were being hurled from the stands. “By December you will be my wife! You need to lose weight, you look like a Roto tank!”
One even mentioned that a key Starlets player, who had missed the match due to injury, got injured because she is too skinny.
Many of us spend our lifetimes grappling with body image. And when you’re an athlete, this is further intensified, as self-scrutiny is magnified by the public eye and sometimes even the coaching team.
That is why I believe there is need for education around body image. Kenyan sports fans need to find a new way of venting their frustrations, one that does not involve name-calling and body shaming. For all players, but majorly female footballers.
As women, we get judged if we don’t look a certain way, and of late, I’m hearing our girls being called fat all the time. The result? A bunch of highly self-conscious players who have to run to the bench to grab a jacket immediately after a match, simply to ‘cover up’.
I’m neither a professional player nor am I a mouthpiece to any individual or entity. I’m only talking about things that female players discuss in the background. And although I’m a bit older and I’ve got unique weight challenges, I feel the same way. Your constant demands on these girls to look a certain way and the vitriolic environment you’ve established on social media is encouraging underfueling and underloading. Yet, to perform at optimal level, sports people need to have a healthy diet which includes carbs.
The truth is, words can hurt and they can stick with us for a really, really long time – especially those that make us feel bad about our appearance.
Yes, football produces super fit individuals who are expected to stay like that for the remainder of their careers. But that’s not always possible.
Players may not always have bodies carved out of granite.
The fat shaming, name calling and insults when things are going wrong on the pitch cannot and will not fix the problem and bring satisfactory results. There is a simple cycle for football success that often gets ignored by those who should pay attention. It goes something like: fund women teams, pay women to train and play, then the players get better, quality of games improve, match day attendance grows, broadcast deals expand, players can be paid more, which means they can train more, they get better, quality of games improve and so on. Putting individual players down won’t fix any of this.
Meanwhile, the last time Starlets qualified for Wafcon was in 2016 against Algeria – a team ranked much higher than Botswana. Qualifying for the women’s continental showpiece back then it was a much more Herculean task than it is today, but they did it. What does this growth curve tell us about the state of local football?