Why Kenyan women footballers find it hard to break the ceiling

WOMEN LEAGUE AT THIKA STADIUM Thika Queens Anita Adongo(l) and Spedag Ladies Murdal Aumafight for the ball when women Legue at Thika Stadium. Queens won 4-1. PHOTO:JENIPHER WACHIE

Football Players are paid as lower as Sh500 as winning allowances after Women Premier League matches

Local league has no sponsors and clubs are struggling as players do other odd jobs to make ends meet.

Rebecca Jebet

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There are countless barriers that hamper the growth of women football which many say need to be tackled for the sport to be at par with the men game.

Financial, social-cultural, lack of empowerment especially from stakeholders and corporates and capacity building are some of the main challenges ailing women football.

The truth is women footballers play just for the passion they have for the game. Most of them cannot build a career out of football and only wait for a call up to the national team to be sure of earning something.

If one doesn’t get a chance in the national team where they earn some allowances, they are left hustling to make a living.

Although there’s a lot of raw talent evident from Wiyeta Girls winning the East African Secondary School Games in Gulu, Uganda, not much has been done to improve standards of the women game.

Many pundits say if women football was taken seriously, the dedication shown by players could see them make a maiden appearance in the World Cup ahead of their male counterparts. CECAFA SENIOR WOMEN CHAMPIONSHIP IN JINJA UGANDA Kenya Harambee Starlets Nedy Atieno(L) and Losa Abera of Ethiopia battle for ball possession during their Cecafa senior women Championship semi finals in Jinja opn Sunday 18/09/16.PHOTO.BONIFACE OKENDO

Currently, the Women Premier League has no sponsors. Clubs have sought backing from respective county governments and sponsors with no success.

Women footballers also face the temptation to convert themselves into sex symbols. This issue has contributed to early motherhood and sometimes the mother is left alone to take care of the baby.

Being a woman footballer, more so a single mother in a league struggling financially, is not a bed of roses. One needs to do other jobs to sustain the family because football can’t pay the bills at the end of the month. There are many single mothers in the league and their plea is to at least get something to boost their lives.

Former Thika Queens custodian who is currently at Mathare United Women team, Mercy Adhiambo said she doesn’t solely depend on football because it offers little.

“Most women footballers depend on football to cater for their daily needs. I can say that football can’t completely support all the needs in my house because the pay is not good. Due to lack of sponsorship in the league most teams don’t pay their players. It’s a big challenge and a player needs to hustle in order to make ends meet,” she said.

Adhiambo, a mother of one started a second hand clothes business to support her daughter.

“We have many single mothers in the league, they are struggling. I must take care of my business first before I go for training. Teams in the league are struggling and something needs to be done,” she said.

Former Vihiga Leeds player who is now the team manager, Leunidah Amisi articulated some of the challenges that face women football.

“Teams are struggling to honour league matches because there is no facilitation in terms of transport to and from training and also to match venues, players need to eat and at least get something to go home with. This has been our greatest challenge. If you can’t satisfy a player, they go on to join a club that gives them something after the match,” she said.

Amisi, however, acknowledges there are some small incentives that the club has come up with to try and keep the players.

“For instance by the end of the season, the management gives best performers something small. We give new boots and a jersey for Player of the Year, top scorer and best goalkeeper in addition to cash rewards ranging from Sh800 to Sh1,000.

“In the ceremony other players get cash ranging from Sh500-800. We can’t afford much,” she said.

Few clubs give their players some allowances ranging from Sh500-1,000 for a win. Nothing is given out in case of a draw or a defeat.

Eldoret Falcons’ Fanuna Abdi feels the Football Kenya Federation has neglected women football.

“The federation needs to do something to uplift women football. They need to look for sponsorship. Some teams give out walkovers due to the financial challenges they have, other teams have been relegated because of the same. Many teams lose players to teams that have something to give at the end of the match. It’s a big disadvantage for teams that don’t have much to pay,” she said.

Abdi, who graduated last year from the University of Eldoret with Finance and Banking degree added: “If nothing is done concerning empowerment of women football in country, the sport will definitely perish.”

Vihiga Queens striker, Selphine Muyonga echoed Abdi’s sentiments adding that sports managers should reinforce on gender equality in sports.

“I think women football is not taken seriously, most teams don’t have sponsors and the few that have can’t compete because their opponents won’t turn up for matches due to lack of finances.

“Sports managers should sensitise the society on the importance of the girl child talent. They can even come up with tournaments like the GOtv for women teams then have rewards on the same just like the men. For instance, last season during the national play-offs, the winners and second runner’s up got absolutely nothing and that demoralises players,” she said.

Apart from the financial issues, women footballers are not well portrayed in the society and the issue of alleged lesbianism has also engulfed women in sport although not many are willing to talk about it.

Spedag team manager, Sarah Ogonyo thinks women football has a bright future, but only only if something is done.

“Women football does not have the blessing from most people and in many occasions they have been given a wide berth. Kenya is overflowing with talent, but unless the required support is realised the talent is as good as wasted,” she said.

“Women footballers shouldn’t be seen as the ‘other group’ that comes to mind only once in a while. If anything, I think our ladies have had exemplary performance in the past compared to the men team.

“It’s about time we give credit where it’s due. I perfectly appreciate our men team,but if half of the support they receive was accorded to us, we can do immensely well,” Ogonyo added.

Soccer Queens’ defender Sharon Komulo reiterated that if sponsors can’t come on board women football will go down.

“Football has made me who I’m today, but we need support to take us to the next level,” she said.

At teh same time, most league clubs are managed by men coaches who don’t really understand women issues. Only three clubs have female coaches.

Christine Nanjala (Spedag) Florence Adhiambo (Makolanders) and Benta Achieng (Thika Queens) are the few female coaches in the league.

Another challenge in the league is that some matches are played less minutes due to busy schedules at some venues.

“Like in Mumias Sports Complex, you find that there are three matches in a day. Kenyan Premier League and National Super League matches are given prominence and we end up playing less minutes,” said Amisi.

Kayole Starlet coach Joshua Sakwa echoed Amisi’s sentiments:

“In our league match against Soccer Queens at Impala Grounds we played 30 minutes in the first half and 37 minutes in the second half. When we inquired from the match officials we were told that the venue had other events that were scheduled after our match. Something has to be done so that this doesn’t happen again,” said Sakwa.

During the first ever symposium on Women in Sports and Development organised by FKF and Germany Development Co-operation on September 4 in a Nairobi Hotel, FKF Deputy President Doris Petra said the symposium was a good initiative since positive ideas touching on women were discussed.

The official who chairs the Women Committee at the federation, called on corporates to support women who are also consumers of their products.

“This is a good platform in developing the game, networking and developing women in sports,” she said.

On his part FKF CEO, Robert Muthomi has called on the media to cover women sports frequently to attract sponsors.

“As a federation, we chose to be in the forefront of these discussions since we are taking the women’s game seriously,” he said.

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