Spare a thought for women’s soccer

The world’s greatest sporting spectacle rolls into town on Friday- this Friday. National teams from 32 countries around the world will gather in Germany for the 2006 Fifa World Cup soccer tournament. The action plays out from this Friday, the 9th of June 2006- please, Mr Banda, we are not slow- to the same date next month, 9th July 2006. During that period, 64 matches will be played at 12 venues around Germany. The tournament begins with the 32 teams playing in eight groups of four teams each. That is the group, or mini-league, stage. It plays out on a round-robin basis; that is that each side plays the other once. Of course, within their group . . . hallo? The top two teams from each group go through to the last-16 stage. From here on the tournament is on a knock-out basis: you lose, you go home. I prefer to call the last-16 stage the next-16, because it is not the last stage. Honestly, I have no intention of confusing you. I swear! The eight matches lead us to the quarter-final stage and that to the semi-finals, then these to the final. This is so because, just like in the action movie “The Highlander”, there can only be one. So that is the route that will be taken in the quest for sport’s holy grail. The quest for global soccer supremacy. But note: the hunt for world sport’s most coveted trophy does not end with bragging rights only. Whoever gets the cup gets the prize money of 24,5 million Swiss francs. The runners-up pocket 22,5 million Swiss francs and the losing semi-finalists 21,5 million each. Everyone else, including first round losers, will also be paid on a sliding scale, depending on the stage at which they used the exit door. Each national association will pick up a million Swiss francs just for having their team there, and two million Swiss francs a match in the first round. But why are you writing the amounts in Swiss francs? Well, that is how I got them. I suppose it is because the Fifa headquarters are in Switzerland. I am afraid I cannot do the calculations for you. Honestly, I do not mean to be arrogant. Kindly do your own calculation. But I can tell you that, whatever your currency, we are talking some money here, folks. Big money. Cry, the Zimbabwe Football Association (Zifa), for the much-needed foreign currency that we will not earn now. Cry too, the South Africa Football Association and the associations in the other countries of our region. Congratulations once again, Angola, for the windfall you are about to receive. And the other four African countries-Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo and Tunisia. You will be in Germany, and you too will play the matches of the first round. What happens after that, ah well, but then the biggest thing about the World Cup is to qualify. Everything else is a bonus. But spare a moment, during the World Cup, for the women’s game Fifa only added the Women’s World Cup in 1991, a good 61 years after the men’s. The inaugural tournament was in China, featuring only a dozen teams. Two years later, the number had risen by four. The next tournament is in China next year. Women’s confederations are the same as men’s: Oceania (OFC), European (UEFA), North, Central America and Caribbean (CONCACAF), South American (CONMEBOL), Asian (AFC) and African (CAF). So as with the men’s, there is room for Africa. But I would argue that we have a lot more to do as Africans to make ourselves felt in the women’s game. Women’s soccer is growing in popularity, make no mistake. Over 650,000 spectators attended the matches of the 1999 tournament, and nearly one billion viewers from 70 countries tuned in. The world soccer-governing body estimates that 40 million girls and women are playing football around the world today. Coming home, statistics for the women’s game are difficult to come by but in the 25 Safa regions, there about 50 000 players active at more than 300 clubs. Assembled in 1993, the South Africa’s women’s soccer team is now a continental powerhouse. Banyana Banyana, The Girls, are now ranked second in Africa. Second to Nigeria. But they have been worthy competition, giving the Super Falcons a good run for their money at the 2003 All-Africa Games, and coming within one goal of qualifying for the 2004 Olympics. Sport contributes to national identity and unity. It is a major driver for international visibility, a marketing tool, a promotional device and a worthwhile pastime for our youths who would otherwise indulge in risky behaviour. It does wonders for regional, continent and global cohesion. Because soccer is the most popular sport in our region, never mind the world over, we stand to benefit if we promote the women’s game too. We stand to reap immense returns from our investment. Which is why my attention was caught by the report from Bulawayo that a women’s soccer team from Malawi has been touring Zimbabwe’s second largest city last week. DD Sunshine Queens won one and lost one against Zimbabwean opposition. They were beaten 2-nil by New Orleans in the first match, and then beat Maton Queens 3-nil in the second match. They were also set to play Harare outfit Mufakose Queens, rounding up their tour with a match against Gwanda. Maton Queens and New Orleans are expected to go to Malawi next year, for a reciprocal tour. That is the way it should be. In fact, the original itinerary by the Malawi team was one to follow. They had been scheduled to play in Livingstone, Zambia, on their way to Zimbabwe and then proceed to South Africa afterwards. But the Zambia and South Africa legs fell through. But for me the story was the Zimbabwe tour happening. Note to all the chauvinists out there: if we ignore women’s soccer, or for that matter any matter involving women, then we ignore something that relates to more than 50 percent of our population and 100 percent of our mothers. Think about it.

June 2006
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