Opinion: FIFA ranking is disputable but Africa’s inactivity shows it’s spot on

By Ijeoma Okigbo

Photo Credit: WomensSoccer Africa

Africa’s inability to make the top 20 of Fifa’s quarterly women’s World Ranking since its inception in 2003, is a source of concern for women’s football enthusiasts across the continent.

In its most recent rankings released on 23 March, Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia and Tanzania were not included.

After being left out in the previous rankings in December, football powerhouse, Cote d’Iviore, along with Morocco, Senegal and Burkina Faso also made the March rankings.

Despite dropping one spot from 37th to 38th position, the Nigerian national team, Super Falcons, maintained their grip as Africa’s undisputed leader being the top-ranked side – again!

Such is the Falcons’ dominance that they have not relinquished that lead on the table in 15 years.

Nigeria’s dominance on the continent regardless, African teams still wallow at the bottom of the rankings. For instance, the best position any country in the continent has obtained remains the 23rd place, ostensibly coveted by the Super Falcons in 2003.

Maureen Mmadu, Nigeria’s Super Falcons Assistant Coach, blamed the abysmal rankings of African sides on the retrogression and docile nature of most  national teams, which sees them ignore FIFA friendly match windows.

After the Lights, Camera, there’s simply no Action!

According to her, it is not enough to wait for either continental or FIFA tournaments to engage the players.

“This lack of playing times and general inactivity of national teams on the continent have been the bane of women’s football.

“European teams play a lot more quality friendlies and engage their teams in competitions than we do in Africa and that is why we are nowhere to be found among the top 30.

“This means that the Football Associations need to do more to promote the women’s football in the highest level,” she said.

On her part, Doreen Nabwire, competitions officer with the Kenyan Women’s League, believes the absence of league football in some countries would perpetually dwarf the continent in the rankings.

“In as much as the FAs are striving to improve their league structures, it is still necessary for them to organize good quality competitions capable of enhancing their countries’ ranking on the FIFA
list. It is even more unfortunate that some African countries still do not have women’s football league.

“They simply assemble teams once in a while when there is a major tournament. It would also help if FAs introduce second-tier leagues and not focus on the top league alone,” she said.

Furthermore, it’s essential for FAs and regional associations on the continent to come together and chart a development course for women’s football because these decision makers have a huge role to play if Africa is to improve her game.

Many African countries only look forward to the biennial African Women Cup of Nations (AWCON), after which they are inactive and remain so.

A notable example is the Super Falcons, who, after clinching a record eighth AWCON title in 2016, did not attempt even a kickabout until last month when the West African Football Union (WAFU) women’s tournament was introduced and staged in Cote d’Ivoire.

In other words, after the ‘Lights’ and ‘Camera’, there’s simply no ‘Action’!

Team manager, Nabwire, who led the Harambee Starlets of Kenya to their first outing at the AWCON 2016, expressed frustration that the team could only look forward to another showpiece in Ghana between November and December of 2018.

“So far we only look forward to AWCON which comes once in two years. This leaves most senior national teams inactive for over 12 months.

“For instance, after the Starlets bowed out of AWCON, we had nothing else to look forward to. So we were inactive until September when we landed the invite to the Council of Southern Africa Football Associations (COSAFA) tournament as a guest nation.

“Regional tournaments like WAFU, COSAFA and Council for East and Central Africa Football Associations (CECAFA) should be encouraged,” Nabwire, who doubles as a Women Development Officer, added.

Football experts and fans alike have dropped at the door of administrators, majority of the blame. Their lukewarm approach sees an almost definite drama of late preparation and walkovers in tournaments they’ve gotten briefs on, at least months or years ago.

It’s not enough to honour FIFA windows to improve the rankings but that must be done with utmost professionalism as just participation in those matches provides a sense of growth, togetherness and even benefts these players as they seek their daily bread.

Jean Sseninde, a Ugandan and Crystal Palace Ladies player, believes that inadequate preparations ahead of tournaments could keep Africa invisible at the world stage.

“Of course, late preparations are never good. You can see with everything we do in life regardless of what it is, all starts with preparations.

“If teams don’t participate as expected because of late preparations, we risk the possibility of permanently staying bottom in the FIFA rankings,” she said.

Having played for German side Werder Bremen, Nabwire strongly believes that funding acts as a limitation in the actualisation of women’s football projects on the continent.

The former midfielder wants FIFA and CAF to put in more grants for the FAs to develop the game in Africa as attention should not be solely on the men; in terms of salary, grassroot development, competitions and more.She also called on the various football associations to source for sponsors on their won which will mean, making the women’s game an attractive brand to leverage upon.

In all these, a deliberate positive action needs to be in place to salvage Africa’s heroines if not, as the statistical arguments rages on about the numbers and positions on FIFA rankings, Africa will keep making a strong case that the world’s most powerful Sports organisation gets it right -oftentimes.

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