BE­FORE SU­PER FAL­CONS BE­COME A SPENT FORCE

There is an ur­gent need to over­haul the Na­tional Women Foot­ball League, ar­gues Tayo Ogun­biyi

THISDAY - - COMMENTARY -

Af­ter play­ing out a pul­sat­ing 120 min­utes goal­less draw against the Bayana Bayana of South Africa, Nige­rian se­nior fe­male soc­cer team, the Su­per Fal­cons, suc­cess­fully de­fended the ti­tle they won in Cameroon, in 2016, at the Ohene Djan Sta­dium in Ac­cra, Ghana 4-3 on penal­ties. The fact that this is the sec­ond time the South Africans would be los­ing out in the fi­nal to Nige­ria made this par­tic­u­lar de­feat a rather painful one for the girls from the Rain­bow na­tion and their fans.

Asisat Oshoala had a golden op­por­tu­nity to put the Fal­cons ahead in the 74th minute when Woman of the Match’ Ordega was fouled by the South African goal­keeper, Kaylin Swart. The Nige­rian winger, how­ever, wasted it to the dis­ap­point­ment of nu­mer­ous Nige­rian fans.

The miss, as painful as it was, never re­ally mat­tered even­tu­ally as the Su­per Fal­cons even­tu­ally edged the il­lus­tri­ous Bayana Bayana team in a nervy penalty shootout. With this lat­est vic­tory, the Su­per Fal­cons have won the cov­eted Africa Women Nations Cup (AW­CON) ti­tle for the 12th time, thus be­com­ing the most suc­cess­ful women soc­cer team on the con­ti­nent.

It is, how­ever, im­por­tant to state that the Su­per Fal­cons were not re­ally at the best of form through­out the com­pe­ti­tion. Apart from the match against the whip­ping ladies of the tour­na­ment, Equa­to­rial Guinea, which they trounced by 6-0, the Su­per Fal­cons were not re­ally con­vinc­ing all through the tour­na­ment. The team, which had ini­tially lost its open­ing match 1-0 to the Bayana Bayana, could only man­age to beat the Cameroo­ni­ans via penalty kicks dur­ing the semi fi­nal.

Con­sid­er­ing the fact that the Bayana Bayana suc­cess­fully held the Fal­cons for 120 min­utes at the fi­nal, it could be rightly con­cluded that the wide gap be­tween them and the rest of Africa is now quite smaller. With their ster­ling and gal­lant per­for­mances at the re­cently con­cluded AW­CON in Ghana, it is quite ap­par­ent that other African coun­tries such as South Africa, Camer­oun, Mali, Ghana and a host of oth­ers are, no doubt, wait­ing in the wing to end the Fal­cons’ con­tin­u­ous dom­i­nance in Africa.

In or­der to en­sure that the Fal­cons con­tinue to re­main the con­ti­nent’s women soc­cer su­per power, the Nige­ria Foot­ball Fed­er­a­tion (NFF) and other stake­hold­ers need to quickly dis­re­gard the cur­rent vic­tory and plan ahead for the World cham­pi­onship as well as the next edi­tion of AW­CON in Congo. In achiev­ing con­stant vic­tory in foot­ball or any other sport­ing event for that mat­ter, ef­fec­tive and ad­e­quate prepa­ra­tion is quite vi­tal.

While it is true that the Su­per Fal­cons are cham­pi­ons of Africa yet again, the last tour­na­ment must serve as a warn­ing sign that they are no longer as in­vin­ci­ble as they used to be in the con­ti­nent. The usual Nige­rian lack­adaisi­cal at­ti­tude to­wards prepa­ra­tion for ma­jor sport­ing tour­na­ments was a key fac­tor in the Fal­cons not too com­pelling dis­play in Ghana. Prior to the com­pe­ti­tion, the team was not given a be­fit­ting prepa­ra­tion re­quired for such a highly com­pet­i­tive tour­na­ment.

Equally im­por­tant is the fact that a lot still needs to be done to­wards im­prov­ing Women Foot­ball in the coun­try. In this re­gards, there is an ur­gent need to over­haul the Na­tional Women Foot­ball League in the coun­try. It is only in do­ing this that we can be as­sured of reg­u­lar dis­cov­ery of bud­ding fe­male soc­cer tal­ents across the coun­try. Women soc­cer tal­ents, no doubt, abound in the coun­try, but there must be a strate­gic and holis­tic plan by the ap­pro­pri­ate au­thor­i­ties to fully take ad­van­tage of this.

It is, thus, im­per­a­tive that we make re­newed ef­forts to in­vest in women’s foot­ball, es­pe­cially at the grass­roots. All over the world, the bulk of those who take to sports are dis­cov­ered at the grass­roots where sports and en­ter­tain­ments are seen as pos­si­ble way of es­cape from the rav­aging grip of poverty. Aje­gunle, a prom­i­nent La­gos masses sub­urb, is renowned to be a fa­mous breed­ing ground of po­ten­tial ath­letes in the coun­try. A rea­son­able num­ber of Nige­ri­ans most suc­cess­ful sport­ing stars were dis­cov­ered in Aje­gunle. You can imag­ine how many Aje­gun­les ex­ist across the coun­try and how many bud­ding sport­ing tal­ents in such places are wast­ing away as a re­sult of lack of ex­po­sure.

It is in view of this that the La­gos State gov­ern­ment is cur­rently work­ing hard to re­vive sports at the grass­roots across the state. Hav­ing ob­served the la­cuna in grass­roots sport de­vel­op­ment, La­gos State Sports Com­mis­sion has rolled out plans with spe­cial fo­cus on school sports as the driver cover­ing both the pri­mary and sec­ondary schools. Parts of the vi­sions is to fill the gap, draw­ing from the par­tic­i­pa­tion of La­gos ac­tive youths and de­vel­op­ing a struc­tured and well-ar­tic­u­lated train­ing con­tents for dif­fer­ent sports in the state.

A com­plete over­haul­ing of all sport­ing fa­cil­i­ties in the coun­try is also needed. Since it seems those sad­dled with over­see­ing the na­tion’s prime sport­ing fa­cil­i­ties are ei­ther over­whelmed with the enor­mity of the re­spon­si­bil­ity or lack the needed fund, gov­ern­ment can re­sort to the PPP model. Sim­i­larly, the pri­vate sec­tor needs to take more ac­tive part in the pro­ject to re­store the na­tion’s lost glory in sports. All over the world, the ini­tia­tives and funds that drive sports come from the pri­vate sec­tor. With the needed pri­vate sec­tor drive, mori­bund school sports com­pe­ti­tions across the coun­try could be re­sus­ci­tated.

Per­haps, more im­por­tantly, the NFF, in par­tic­u­lar, needs to come up with cre­ative strate­gies that would en­sure that all the Fal­cons are as equally ef­fec­tively taken care of as the Su­per Ea­gles. The pedi­gree of the Su­per Fal­cons as a win­ning brand should be ef­fec­tively har­nessed to rake up good spon­sor­ship deals for the team. There are so many lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional cor­po­rate or­gan­i­sa­tions, es­pe­cially with gen­der-re­lated prod­ucts and ser­vices that would be will­ing to lever­age on the Fal­cons suc­cess. All the NFF needs to do is to be bet­ter or­ga­nized, trans­par­ent and pro-ac­tive. Go­ing cup in hands, all the time, to beg for fund each time our na­tional teams are on as­sign­ment is, to say the least, un­pro­fes­sional and de­mean­ing. The NFF must stop it!

On a fi­nal note, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, cor­po­rate bod­ies and other well-mean­ing in­di­vid­u­als should gen­er­ously ap­pre­ci­ate the Su­per Fal­cons for their cur­rent suc­cess. It is heart­warm­ing to note that African num­ber one bil­lion­aire, Al­haji Aliko Dan­gote and a few oth­ers have al­ready do­nated about N75 mil­lion to the vic­to­ri­ous Fal­cons. Oth­ers need to join the train. The ladies have done well for our na­tion. Ap­pre­ci­at­ing them is the least we could do. God bless Nige­ria! Ogun­biyi is of the Min­istry of In­for­ma­tion and Strat­egy, Alausa, Ikeja, La­gos

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