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Domestic league: Women as torch bearers

On December 9, 2020, the Nigeria Women Football League (NWFL) started across various centres with ease. A total of 182 matches will be played over 26 weeks. We are aware there are two other tiers – Championship Division 1 with 12 clubs and Nationwide Amateur with 20 teams – will start their leagues next year.

This is happening at a time confusion reigns supreme on the kick-off date of the Nigeria Professional Football League, which has Shehu Dikko, a second Vice President of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), as head of the League Management Company. However, in Day One of the elite women league, Confluence Queens and Rivers Angels played 1-1, Abia Angels defeated Pelican Stars 2-0, Ibom Angels lost 1-0 at home to Osun Babes, Delta Queens had a remarkable 4-1 win over DreamStar FC, while Nasarawa Amazons lost 1-0 at home to Robo Queens.

Bayelsa Queens also defeated Sunshine Queens 2-1 just as Edo Queens were ruthless with their 4-1 demolition of Royal Queens. We highly commend the Chairperson of the NWFL, Aisha Falode, for the bold step taken in starting the league.

She also insisted that the rules on registration and club licensing must be strictly adhered to. They were to pay N500,000 registration and club licensing fee. Teams, in addition, were asked to show evidence of medical test (COVID-19) for each of the players and officials. Initially, five clubs – Sunshine Queens, Dream Stars of Lagos, Heartland Queens, Ibom Angels and Adamawa Queens – failed to comply with the stated regulations and after much appeal they were given three more days to comply or be relegated. Heartland and Adamawa Queens were relegated for failure to comply.

This is a direct message to show the seriousness of the organisers .This has never happened in the history of Nigerian league, not even in the male league. This is highly commendable and it will prepare the ladies for the first ever continental games billed to start next year. Also of note is the partnership with the United Nations Women, the #Safe Home Campaign facilitated for the NWFL by Falode. This is a campaign against violence against women and girls.

The NWFL had, in 2019, activated its first partnership with the Laliga Women Department in Spain. We note that the progress being made in the women league is a big statement for the chieftains of the LMC, still struggling to get things right in the male league.

Rather than the NWFL to emulate the NPFL, it is the other way round. Falode and his team should be more resolute on getting, sponsorship for the league, especially with the pledge by NFF President, Amaju Pinnick, in this regard. This will further boost the league and make the ladies stronger for continental and global meets. We recall that women in sports are very result oriented. The very first and only individual Olympic gold medal was won by a woman, Chioma Ajunwa, in the long jump event at the Atlanta ’96 games. No one saw it coming, but it happened. In athletics, Gloria Alozie, Mary Onyali and Falilat Ogunkoya are also individual Olympic medallists.

Weight lifter, Ruth Ogbeifo, is also in this category. For many years till date, blessing Okhagbare has been the poster girl of Nigerian athletics at world stage. In basketball, D’ Tigers, Nigeria’s national men’s basketball team, won the Afrobasket only once in 2015.

But their female counterparts have won AfroBasket four times. First was in 2003 in Mozambique, second was in Abuja in 2005, third was in Mali in 2017 and then in Senegal in 2019. Till date, the Nigerian ladies are the defending AfroBasket champions and at the last FIBA Basketball Women World Cup in 2018 in Spain, Nigeria played in the last eight.

D’Tigress were the first African team to feature in the quarterfinals of Basketball World Cup. Currently, the exploits of wrestler, Odunayo Adekuoroye, at continental and global stages are amazing. She is the number one in her freestyle category and was hot favourite to clinch gold if the Tokyo Games was not shifted last year due to COVID-19. She is still on course for a medal at the games next year.

The story is the same in football, Asisat Oshoala, has been listed in the last three nominees for the African player of the Year, but no male player listed in the Eagles. Perpetua Nwocha won the award four times, just as Oshoala has done.

If Oshoala wins again, it will be a record 5th time. In history, Nigeria’s men have only won it four times. In the national team, Super Eagles have won the Nations Cup only three times and they are yet to feature at the quarterfinals of men’s FIFA World Cup, but the Falcons have won the Women’s Nations Cup nine of 11 times staged. No doubt, the women athletes and administrators deserve more respect and they should be taken seriously in the country’s drive to be more competitive and result oriented in sports. We call on the Ministry of Sports to encourage women athletes and administrators because the current trend shows they are more focused and result oriented than their male counterparts.

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