Prospects of Female Football in Nigerian Secondary Schools

The round leather game, popularly called Football, commands global attraction, compared to other sports. Since its modern conception over one hundred and fifty years ago, specifically in 1863 in England, football’s audience has continued to mutate.

Federation of International Football Association president, FIFA, Gianni Infantino gave insight into this when he said “The last FIFA World Cup was watched by four billion people, the last FIFA Women’s World Cup by 1.2 billion people,” said Infantino, who was speaking at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting. “This World Cup in Qatar will be watched by five billion people, way above half of the world’s population.

However, the balance in terms of spectators remains tilted in favour of male football, though interest in female football has significantly increased. The depth of interest in female football in the Western world however exceeds what obtains in Africa going by the growth of female football clubs, especially in countries such as England, Spain and France.

The big marginal difference between male and female football is pronounced in Africa, including Nigeria. Though male football is not present in the best of shape as it was back in the 1980s and 1990s, dwindling in fortune since the late 2000s; female club football has fared even worse. Let’s do a brief run-through of the evolution of female football in the country.

The first known mention of women’s football in Nigeria is in 1937 “Subsequent reports immediately following 1937 involved women playing football but those games were for amusement. After becoming politically independent numerous Nigerian cities hosted women’s football teams by 1960. The 1970s saw some growth, with new women’s leagues in Nigeria.

However, there were ups and downs and female football was always discredited as an unviable and entertaining sport and considered dangerous due to cultural belief that women are delicate and should be exposed to energy-sapping activities like football. The prejudice led to parents and educational institutions like secondary schools not creating or having female football teams to partake in football competitions.

1978 saw the emergence of the Nigeria Female Football Organizing Association (NIFFOA) later renamed in 1979 to Nigeria Female Football Proprietors Organization (NIFFPA). Despite a lack of support from Nigerian officials, 28 clubs played women’s football in the country by 1989.

In 1990 Nigeria Football Association (NFA) organized the first championship which the Nigeria female league was later restructured to be a premier league that involves twelve teams playing in a single division. Nigeria’s national team competed in the 1991 Women’s World Cup.

African Women’s Championship came on board in 1998 courtesy of CA following two unofficial versions of the tournament earlier in the 1990s; host country Nigeria won, beginning a stretch of five consecutive titles in the event. The next year, the squad reached the quarterfinals of the 1999 Women’s World Cup. The Nigerian women’s national team has won eleven African cups of nation titles most recently in 2018. They are also the only team that has reached the quarter-finals at the summer Olympics and the women’s FIFA world cup. As of 2020, the Nigerian women’s national team is ranked 38th according to FIFA’s world ranking chart.

Comparatively, the growth recorded in male football in the country, especially club football, cannot be divorced from success at the grassroots, especially the secondary schools while the female counterparts are mostly products of clubs in the Nigerian Female Football League.

Prominent male footballers who have risen through the ranks to emerge world stars include John ‘Mikel’ Obi, Patrick Mancha, Benedict Akwuegwu emerged from St. Murumba College Jos, Matthew Atuegbu, Nicholas Atuegbu, and Emmanuel Egede emerged from St. Murumba College Jos, while the same cannot be said for female footballers.  

Academical competitions in various sports in secondary schools sparked the growth as there used to be a sports development structure in Nigeria anchored to education and referred to as in the 1960s and 1970s. An international dimension that the academicals assumed, with the introduction of annual competitions between the national teams of selected secondary school students, further enhanced its importance. In 1967, Nigeria evolved a team of student players, which defeated Ghana both at home and away.

Many of the players would eventually become the core of the senior Green Eagles, which represented Nigeria at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico, and were held by Brazil to a 3-3 draw (Complete Sports, August 8, 2020).

Nigeria would later take on the world-winning Under-17 World Cup laurels in 1985, 1993, 2007, 2013 and 2015. This dominance at that level had declined significantly as the national teen’s team had yet to win international laurels since.

This results from a lack of continuity or adequate attention to academicals programmes, which could have helped sports development within schools.

As for female football, secondary schools cannot take credit for the current heights attained; the kudos go to the Female Football League or the exposure of the girls to training abroad. Some of those who got their exposure outside the country include Uchenna Kanu at Southeastern Fire with Pensacola FC, Patricia George raised in the U.S with the University of Illinois female soccer team, Onome Ebi with the Swedish team Pita and Rasheedat Ajibade with the Norwegian team Avaldnes.

However, there is still hope for female football development through secondary school football. Some secondary schools with organized football for boys and girls include Sheikh Abdulkadri College (Ilorin west zone), C&S College (Ilorin East zone), ECWA Secondary School of Igbaja (Offa zone) and Oke-Opin Anglican College (Omu Aran zone).

Government should pick up the gauntlet by promoting female secondary school football at Local Government, State and National levels.

Semilore Emiade

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