Which way for African women’s football future?

Nigeria players celebrate their victory after the end of their Australia and New Zealand 2023 Women's World Cup Group B match against Australia at Brisbane Stadium in Brisbane on July 27, 2023.

Photo credit: Patrick Hamilton | AFP

What you need to know:

  • On Monday, at the ongoing Fifa Women’s World Cup, Germany beat debutantes Morocco 6-0 in their opening match.

In keeping with the spirit of maandamano, today I have a canny proposal. How about we collect 10 million signatures to petition the German national women’s team to be nicer to African World Cup debutantes? 

On Monday, at the ongoing Fifa Women’s World Cup, Germany beat debutantes Morocco 6-0 in their opening match.

Not surprising for a team making its maiden appearance in this competition and one that is yet to lift the African title, but if you go back in history, you will see that the Germans were merely keeping with tradition.

In 2019, when the Banyana Banyana of South Africa first qualified for the world cup, they too had Germany for their opening match.  They collected four goals without a chance of reply. 

Five years before that, Cote d’Ivoire women’s team made their debut and were again paired against Germany in their first game.

They were walloped mercilessly, with a score line I would rather leave out of this article. Call it a German welcome package, but there’s more to this.

We are all watching the brutal reality of what football analysts have always told us would happen.

Four African teams at the World Cup, including highly esteemed Nigeria and South Africa, and just a single victory via Nigeria on Thursday?

This is a real African emergency. How will we respond?  This is a moment of genuine despair, but also a time to resist doomism. For CAF heads as well as Fifa, the answer seems to be to look away or deflect. We shouldn’t act like these European conquerors are our equals, right?

A journalist from Ghana recently interrupted our pity party at a women’s football WhatsApp group by saying that there is no need to inflate the magnitude of what is happening. The reality is confronting enough.

Here is some of what we know. African players don’t play as many games as their European counterparts play in a football calendar year, both at national and club level. 

Who can ever forget that when Harambee Starlets returned home from their debut at the Wafcon in 2016, the next time they played was at the 2018 Cecafa Women’s Championship in July.  Almost two years without any game! I hate to say it, but the story is the same for all African women’s teams.  

Collecting signatures to compel Fifa to stop giving Germany to debutants from Africa at the World Cup, or launching investigations into why debutantes from Africa are always drawn against Germany for their first matches could count as a good response to this unfolding emergency, but it will only shield the continent from one challenge.   

A more logical response would be to ensure African teams prepare adequately so that they can compete favourably against their European counterparts.

We have tried approaching big tournaments with a ‘vibes and Inshallah’ mentality (everything will be fine somehow), while other teams prepare all season round, in modern facilities and under sound coaching and leadership. It hasn’t worked. 

It would mean a commitment to keep African women’s teams busy throughout. It would mean strengthening local leagues and aggressively marketing of the women’s games to attract sponsors and increase funding.

Alternatively, politicians could continue looking away and wait for another international tournament to get devastating results before doing more.