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Football: African women are taking their chances

  • March 08, 2022

“Women in sport should support other women, recommend women who are talented and help other women to network,” Solange Tyrah-Lee de Haas told DW.

Her path into football safety and security management has been unusual. She started out working in marketing at the 2015 FIFA U20 World Cup in New Zealand. It was there that she met Deborah Doe, FIFA’s Security Adviser, one of the only women in stadium security at the time, who encouraged her to take up an internship in the security department of the 2016 FIFA U20 Women’s World Cup in Papua New Guinea.

This helped her to write a thesis about stadium security for her Masters in Russia before she became certified and later Head of Safety and Security Operations for Tournaments for the Council of Southern Africa Football Associations (COSAFA), where she leads security at tournaments in the southern African region.

The Rwandan-New Zealander was also the first woman to head a CAF (Confederation of African Football) Safety and Security team at a major football event, the 2018 African Nations Championship (CHAN) in Morocco.

De Haas said she received unusual glances when she arrived at her first meeting with the security team at the Agadir Stadium during the tournament  The staff had never taken security briefings from a woman. But her expertise shone through, and she earned their respect as the tournament went on.

“Some men still undermine us, they still feel we are not good enough. Some men don’t understand that I can actually do my job. Some men say they don’t want women to give them orders,” said the 43-year-old about her challenges in the line of duty.

“I tell my female colleagues never to cry in front of men. I tell them to excuse themselves if they feel the emotions overwhelming them. They must always show confidence in front of the men. Our men should support us instead of undermining us,” she said.

Opportunities for African women

Whether on the field or in the boardroom, more women are finding their voices and making a career in African football.

At this year’s Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon, Rwandan referee Salima Mukansanga became the first woman to officiate a game in the tournament’s 65-year history. Mukansanga was the referee when Zimbabwe defeated Guinea 2-1 at the Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium in Yaounde and gave a flawless performance.

Salima Mukansanga became the first woman to officiate at the AFCON

 “I am a lucky woman,” Mukansanga told DW. “I come from a country that gives equal chances to women to do what they want which benefits them according to their ability and commitment. That’s something that pushed me to be more active and to work hard on my career.”

She hopes her feat will inspire more women to dream of one day getting to the top of the sport.

In South Africa, the women’s game is already receiving a lot of attention with more women taking charge of the decision-making processes. Indeed, the South African Football Association (SAFA) has made it a policy to hire only women coaches to all the women national teams across all age grades. 

“We are trying to empower women as well so that they can also be involved in the sport. So the more women we get into the sport, we feel it’s actually growing the sport holistically, not only for the players, but for everyone else who is part of the game, ” Lydia Monyepao, Chief Operating Officer of the South Africa Football Association (SAFA), told DW.

Women referees and coaches are being trained and former women footballers are being encouraged to get proper education that will help them attain boardroom positions.

More needs to be done

It was only last year that CAF hosted the first eight-team Women’s Champions League in Egypt that was won by South Africa’s Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies.

Juliet Bawuah, a Ghanaian journalist and founder of the African Women Sports Summit, an umbrella organization concerned with support and networking, says the gains for women in African football are visible. But it is not yet enough.

Juliet Bawuah’s Africa Women’s Sport Summit helps women network. Bawuah is in the center, in blue pant suit.

“Yes, of course, gains have been made but we do need more of that in areas such as infrastructure, talent development and equal pay. There is very little attention paid to the women’s game in Africa so this affects the general scope where infrastructure is concerned. Most of these teams train and play under deplorable conditions and that will have to change, ” Bawuah told DW.

“Also, talent development remains an issue. Most of our women’s teams have improved significantly in the last decade but it can be better in terms of the complete appreciation of skillset and aptitude.

“We will also have to continue trumpeting and championing the need to have equal pay for the women’s game in Africa. We saw the landmark case in the US. It is an important conversation that needs to be had and we can no longer pretend we don’t know that is the elephant in the room. These are professionals who must be rewarded same as their other colleagues of the opposite gender. It is a bias that needs to be broken,” Bawuah said.

Edited by: Matt Pearson


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