Covid-19: Sustaining interest in women’s football in Ghana

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Major clubs are looking at billions in losses if the season isn’t completed, but virologists and sports medics see a risk in resumption of games amid this pandemic.

In England, Chelsea Ladies have been crowned champions in the 2019/20 Women’s Super League with 43 games to go after they ended their season abruptly due to the virus.

On the African continent, no nation has mentioned anything yet over when their leagues will resume and Ghana is no exception.

The Ghana Football Association was looking at the return of football football in June until it was ruled out during the President’s address, which stated that football and all contact sports might resume after July 31st 2020.

The Ghana Women’s Premier League has had a successful first round before it came to an abrupt end due to the spread of the global pandemic coronavirus. The pandemic halted all national female sporting activities due to postponements announced by Fifa and Caf on all competitions.

Covid-19 has since had an impact on the sporting value chain – the female players, teams, leagues,  club owners, fans and the sports media responsible for broadcasting the games.

Players have now no option than to do their own personal training in order to keep shape whiles awaiting the return of the Women’s Premier League.

Milot Pokuaa, who is one of the top scorers in Hassacas Ladies and also a Black Princesses striker shared her sentiments.

“It is not easy to train alone because football is a game for many people,” she said. “So far as the sickness is in we have to cope and do your personal training. I train twice a day and that’s what is keeping me going. This sickness has taken a lot away from us because we don’t play football or see our friends. This COVID-19 has spoiled everything since we’ve home for three months now.”

Football is a sport which monetizes differently across the globe. In Ghana, the female football clubs are now being kept on their toes after going through successful branding that helped in attracting more spectators to the games. Though no match day income was gained through ticketing this season, the clubs and the entire female football body were making preparations for that next season.

“This was much unexpected and so we are adjusting, someone like me in the corporate space combining that with this one has been pretty tough for us in the corporate world and women’s football and the clubs as well but I believe that sooner than later we will get out of it. In a situation like this, especially the bank rollers it has been tough financially, those who have the clubhouses to house the players have been affected hugely when it comes to feeding these players but it’s good the government has the next three months paid for the use of water and electricity but in terms of feeding them and buying gas the bank rollers are feeling the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic but like I said sooner than later everything will come back to normal,” said Hillary Boateng, the Chairperson of the Women’s League.

“Women’s football, we had just completed the first round and it was a huge success in the eyes of a lot people not just us as a committee and so people were looking forward to the second round so on that score it is a bit disappointing but upon hindsight we’ve seen videos coming out of the GFA of matches that was played in the first round. Not just the women’s football but the division one and the premier league and at least those of us who enjoyed the first round it brings us some memories we are missing currently. The social media awareness is still there even though football is not going on. In terms of the effect, right from the FA all the way down to the clubs financially, the FA had a meeting with the women’s clubs and everyone shared his concerns and sooner than later the FA will get hold of the emergency fund from FIFA so they can it to the clubs as they promised and as well as support from government will be great.”

Last season was ended on the basis of the Anas exposé and this season on Covid-19, corporate bodies and sponsorship deals expected in support of the league might never come to pass looking at how inconsistent the two seasons have proven.

No brand will like to associate with a league that has been “on and off” for the past two seasons, a struggle which is yet to be overcome.

Female players are not in line with every day training as with team trainings; the excitement it comes with and the bond of togetherness to win. Personal trainings are sometimes overlooked due to stress and the notion of “when the Covid-19 will finally end”.

Patricia Mantey with a chat with the writer

Patricia Martey is a goalkeeper for Immigration Ladies and Black Queens. She wakes up early to do her own personal training. She is hoping for a safe return of the league so she get back her spot she has in the national team.

“I think it’s normal, anything can happen at any time. If something like this has come, you just have to cope and do your best. We are home; we are training and doing our best to prepare for new season.

“Training with guys helps a lot. As a lady training with guys is difficult but I am doing my best. I was training before the pandemic came to hit us but that shouldn’t stop me from training.

“This is the beginning of Patricia Mantey because I know what I can do. I think 2014 I was dropped during the qualifiers but I came back to take my position. That’s me; I am always working because I love football. I will come back strong.”

As women, the natural attraction of men has set in leading to unwanted dealings in these few months till whenever we are free devoid of global pandemic.

The risk of gaining weight and untimely pregnancies keep staring in the face but the bankroller of Halifax Ladies Football Club, Ebenezer Nii Moi, only hope for the safety of the girls and won’t care of the financial cost even if the league is truncated.

“I think of my girls. If they are happy then I am happy too. So, despite the money I spend on them it’s my pleasure to see them play football because that’s what they know best. So I know if I can make them happy they will make me happy too. We are getting ready for the second round, we even got some players we are going to register but all of a sudden it was cut off but I told the girls we are still going to prepare for the second round. If the second round doesn’t come on then we will prepare for an all new season.

“Despite all these financial difficulties, I just take pleasure in seeing my girls happy and I know when they go out to play they all feel happy. I am worried about my girls because I know when they come back they will be very rusty so it will take some time to build them up before we can start playing again.

“If I think of our position and take it into consideration whether they cancel it or not we are good but I would rather have it cancelled. The girls are very rusty now and if they should continue now I wouldn’t know how they would perform so I prefer we cancel the League and start all over again. They call me that they are training and all that but you know girls, it’s as if they are here and training with the coaches and we have our eyes on them. Financially, it takes its toll on me but my aim is to take the girls off the streets so they can be somewhere in life.”

Match day hospitality services provided by food vendors is at stake, causing loss to these breadwinners.

The Ghana Football Association, stakeholders, club owners, and the football fraternity as a whole is acting in line with the laid down measures in curbing the pandemic to make progress for football to start again with high expectation of the whistle to be blown and that’s all football lovers are waiting for.

Ridge City Football Club co-owner Lawyer Cleopatra Nsiah Nketia, who is also a committee member for women’s football management committee, talks about the effect of the pandemic on women’s football.

“As you can tell the women’s premier league had already started and they were playing their game and everything was going well. For my club, we don’t just train on dirty pitch or the normal grass, we train on astroturf pitches. We have a team of coaches training the girls, we have people that we brought in to help the girls. We went and got new kits, boots. We were all prepared to start the league and then that weekend we had to cancel so they’ve been a huge financial impact. The girls were training at least five times a week and all of this has just gone down. When we do start the league, we have to start everything so that  has been one of the of the huge impact the financial side. On the girls side too football is all they do, football is their life and now we’ve been put in a situation where we can’t play football and it has real toll on us but hopefully we can get back to football soon.

“When the women’s league started, we were getting a lot of attention, the games were being streamed live, and we had a lot people at the games.

“But I think it is not an issue at all because football is football. We all miss football now and when the opportunity comes again for us to get back to the pitch, I am pretty sure we will pick up that momentum. It is just the fitness and attention that has now slowed down but it’s not something that has affected us but it has affected everyone in the world but once we start the football everything will come back.”

As a head coach in the women’s elite league, Joyce Boatey-Agyei of Supreme Ladies is hoping a miracle happens for these girls to get back to the field to do what they love doing best.

The current situation is presenting an almost existential threat to the women’s game if no specific considerations are given to protect the women’s football industry.

Due to its less established professional leagues, low salaries, narrower scope of opportunities, uneven sponsorship deals and less corporate investment, the fragility of the women’s football eco-system is exposed by the current situation.

The lack of written contracts, the short-term duration of employment contracts, the lack of health insurance and medical coverage, and the absence of basic worker protections and worker’s rights leaves many female players—some of whom were already teetering on the margins—at great risk of losing their livelihoods.

Each day presents new developments concerning Covid-19 and in the last weeks we have seen how all football stakeholders are not only affected by the situation, but also how they are reacting to it.

Yusif Basigi, who is the head coach of Hassacas Ladies and the Black Princesses of Ghana, is worried about getting the best for international competitions

“Seriously it has affected my players. My technical team and I were just about to leave to Guinea Bissau on Wednesday before we were asked to break camp because of the pandemic. I’ve been giving the girls assignments, they do it and put in on their status so for me to see. So I have been engaging them, right from now look at the time frame, from now up to September one can never tell so until CAF comes out with their programme then I will continue from there.”

All said and down, enough protection for the players who are the key actors must be advocated for.

The women’s football industry will require innovation and intervention from across the private sector and public sectors, from policymakers and governing bodies, to broadcasting companies and sponsors.

We must employ an open, collaborative approach that seeks and appreciates the view of the players.

The ultimate goal must be to not only limit damage to the industry, but to build a more solid foundation for these players and their future.

By Nana Akua Amankwaa Quaye

 

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