Why Nigeria must tap into the potential of its female sports sector

A few days ago, Nigeria’s Asisat Oshoala picked up BBC’s inaugural Women Player of the Year award – an award that recognizes the best female footballer on the planet. Asisat, the youngest player to be nominated for the award, beat off competition from stellar names such as  Spain’s Veronica Boquete, Germany’s Nadine Kessler, Scotland’s Kim Little and Brazil’s famous Marta to win the award and register her name into global consciousness. This follows on the heels of success by the Super Falcons—Nigeria’s female national team—at the African Women’s Championships.

In Nigeria, where a passionate sports following is as vibrant as ever, one wonders if enough attention—and investment—is given to female football and sports in general. It is incredibly difficult to make a compelling argument against the need for increased attention to female football as over the years, female football has brought the country significant success. Of the eleven editions of the African Women’s Championships, the Nigerian Super Falcons have been champions a record nine times- including the debut tournament in 1991.

Nigeria’s success in female sports is not limited to football either as only last month, Blessing Okagbare impressively won the gold medal at the Diamond League Race in China. Blessing, one of the continent’s biggest track and field stars, has previously complained of a lack of support from authorities as she has had to source for funding to facilitate her training regime.

Yet, despite this success, female sports suffers an investment deficit in Nigeria. The Nigerian Football Federation continues to treat the female national teams as an afterthought rather than assets and the lack of local development in the female football league is more than enough proof that not enough is being done.

Admittedly, female football did not immediately catch on globally. In fact, the first ever FIFA Women’s World Cup had only one sponsor and the final, contested by USA and Norway, was not broadcast on any station in the United States. Yet by 2007, the World Cup was aired in as many as 200 countries and by 2011, it featured 12 major sponsors with FIFA announcing that it had its sponsorship packages fully booked 18 months before kickoff.

The acceptance and popularity of female football globally is also evident on Twitter as the World Cup final in 2011 set the record for the most tweets per second, eclipsing epochal events such as the killing of Osama bin Laden and the royal wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton.

Facilitating the growth of female sports in Nigeria promises some rewards. A new generation of sportswomen in the mold of Asisat Oshoala and Blessing Okagbare will emerge and, given right planning and execution, a national female football league could bloom. A new wave of women active in sports administration and coaching will be developed and a sector of the sports economy can become vibrant.

All of this is long-term but the best time to lay the blocks of foundation for that reality is now. Without doubt, given the success and prestige female football and players like Asisat Oshoala have brought to Nigeria and the possibilities that proper investment could open up, it must be one of the priorities of new NFF boss, Amaju Pinnick.

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