We miss the game: West Nile female footballers cry out for support

todaySeptember 11, 2021

By Sabir Musa

Dressed in her blue soccer jersey branded with Fresh Dairy logo, Mercy Consolate Ariye 19, was on a street of Arua City around 5pm for the routine roadwork, a physical exercise.
Mercy is a football player, she started playing football as early as primary 3 at Ushindi Primary School before an opportunity to travel to Tanzania crossed her way for a tournament. For the love of the game, Mercy has played for different clubs in the capital – Kampala, representing some of her schools in tournaments outside the country. She now plays for Moroons, a women football club in Kampala.
“I always feel like playing football, but a ladies’ team is nowhere, so the best thing I do is to look for clubs outside yet there are many young girls who are capable of playing football. We are worried because we don’t have any future that the discipline will develop in this region and let alone the career of the young girls who have enthusiasm in the game”, she said, praying that the status quo could change.
Ariye had a dream to represent her region, West Nile in women football at national and international levels, but this seems far from possibility, with the lack of support for the discipline.
“Actually it has been challenging. Some districts in some other parts of the country are keenly promoting football among the young girls and women. Unfortunately we are not seeing of that in our region West Nile’’, she said.
Mercy is one of many female footballers in the region watching their talents die. Lucky for her, she studies from the central region where female football is taken serious and is incorporated into the schools co-curricular activities making it even more vibrant unlike in the region she comes from, West Nile.
Districts like Moyo, Adjumani and Nebbi are some of the few in the region that has clubs for female footballers, but they are equally struggling as they lack support from stakeholders.
The players and team managers cite lack of financial support and negative mind-set from community as major challenges hampering development of female football in the region.

Teams in other areas
In Zombo District, a newly registered Aka-Zeu Women Football Club intends to provide an environment in which players, coaches, referees and administrators are given an opportunity to participate and excel in their careers. The Director Football Development at the club, Denis Omon Francis says, this will help bring on board more women to participate and help female footballers in the region.
“We want football in West Nile to have a life-long impact among the women football lovers and our stakeholders. We also want to be the leading club in promoting women football development through our academy in West Nile region and we believe this plan will be achieved through team work”, he says.
With many prominent football clubs in West Nile like Onduparaka FC, Paidha Black Angels and Midigo Calvery, some sports analysts believe that establishing a ladies’ team by such clubs will be of importance in developing women football.
Dudu Bosco, an Executive member of Uganda Football Coaches Association representing West Nile region is one of those football fanatics passionate about promoting the discipline among the female counterparts.
“There are girls who are signed by top clubs in Europe like Barcelona, Chelsea and Arsenal. So our clubs need to pick a leaf from such clubs and incorporate the ladies in football. I think it will be a step in the right direction. Let’s us just try it out Im sure our local clubs can achieve something”, he said.
To improve sports in the country, government created offices of sports at local government level to monitor sports activities, this includes identifying talents and nurturing in all the disciplines.
Despite this move, women football development still remains a challenge in West Nile region as it does not feature under schools annual curricular activities. But as craving for women football grows in the region, the players and some stakeholders have mooted plans to introduce it as one of the activities to build its base from schools.
Arua City Sports Officer, Lika Muktar welcomes the idea saying “school is a good avenue of sports to identify and develop talent from grassroots”.
“Council already has a plan to register all clubs in the city to address the challenges through trainings and mentorship. We are actually expecting clubs of all discipline that have not identified with the city to do it now so that they are put also among those who will be in the city”, he said.

Female representation
The football governing body in Uganda, Federation of Uganda Football Association (FUFA) also an affiliate to Federation of International Football Association (FIFA) is now striving to achieve its goal of increasing women participation in football by involving a female delegate as regional representative from each of the 8 regions to the national assembly.
This is intended to improve the women football and inspire young female footballers to have hope and achieve their dreams. 
Ms. Kubingi Margret, the Chairperson Uganda Women Football Association, an affiliate to Federation of Uganda Football Association acknowledges the challenges faced in development of women football in West Nile region, but she is quick to say that this will improve given the set plans for regional tour.
“We have plans to train more administrators, referees, coaches and the medical personnel. By doing so, FUFA is promoting and developing women football at the same time protecting it from ‘enemies’ through the structures, also rules and regulations governing this game”, she said.
She however challenges the stakeholders to play their part by ensuring development of football from grassroots level just like any other sports discipline and this she says can be possible through advocacy for sponsorship and publicity on for the sports.
“Well I’m hopeful that the current state of women football in West Nile will change to better position as the three delegates of the region, Sheeba, Maleni Beatrice and Asua Luke are equipped from the national assembly. But also more support is needed to attract the women and girls to football”, she said.

Leagues in the country
In the recently concluded FUFA Women Super League and many other women football tournaments in the country, West Nile region did not present any team despite the abundance of talent identified in the region.
This can easily be attributed to lack of support, a serious challenge faced by administrators and women football players in the region to enable trainings and smooth running of activities in administration of the few existing clubs in some of the district in West Nile.

About women football in Uganda, by FUFA
Women football in Uganda dates to the early 90’s with girls and women playing football for the fun of it. The game was scanty and no defined structures as compared to the current status in the country.
Girls and women would competitively play against the opposite sex to create cohesion.
Mrs. Kazibwe Rebecca, also known as ‘Mama Becca’ (RIP)   and Mr. Paul Ssali are the founding members of women football in Uganda. Ssali was Uganda Cranes goalkeeper in 1978, the last time Uganda appeared at the Nations cup finals.
The then National senior team, the She- Kobs (Now Crested Cranes) would be hand-picked due to lack of defined competitions.
A national league was started in the mid-90s but suffered a natural death due to various challenges including lack of sponsorship.

COVER PHOTO: Crested Cranes players celebrate a crucial goal against Zanzibar in 2016. Uganda beat Zanzibar 9-0 in the group stages of the Cecafa Women's Championship in Njeru.

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