The COVID-19 Epidemic: A real disaster for Women’s football in Zambia
And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about, Japanese writer Haruki Murakami once said in one of his famous quotes.
2020 is a year that has seen so many bad things happening at once, The Coronavirus epidemic has been the highlight of the year. For the lovers of sport especially NBA fanatics it’s also the year that took one of the greatest to ever grace a Basketball court, Kobe Bryant who died in a plane crash together with daughter Gianna Maria-Onore.
As of 8th September, the global number of confirmed positive cases were a little above 27 million. It’s surely been a year that has put almost everything on hold, Zambian football is no exception.
The MTN/FAZ Super League went on a Coronavirus induced hiatus for close to four months before returning to action and eventually coming to an abrupt end after a surge in the number of positive cases in the country. The new season is set to kick off on October 17th and several teams have resumed training in preparation for the start of the new season.
The Women’s game in the country has been on the rise in the recent past as evidenced by the Copper Queens qualification to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics after a rigorous qualification process that saw them defeat, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Kenya, and Cameroon to make history but unfortunately due to the Coronavirus epidemic, the tour ament has been moved to 2021.
However, Five months after the Women’s leagues were put on hold the future of the 2020 Women’s league season remains uncertain. At the moment no one is sure of how it will be concluded.
Besides, The Council of Southern African Football Associations (COSAFA) last month confirmed that the Under-20 Women’s Championship, which was scheduled for the Region 5 Games in Maseru in December, has been canceled for this year after the Games were postponed to December 2021.
Most players in Zambia are in this age group and were hoping for a chance to go and compete with the rest of Southern Africa and showcase their talent. One of the players who has been affected by this decision is Indeni Roses and U-20 defender Thelma Phiri who was key in the young Copper queens road to winning silver last year.
Phiri says the Coronavirus-induced football break has affected her financial status as she is finding it difficult to find money without doing her job, Playing Football. She also believes her fitness levels have been impacted a lot as she has little time to train and at the moment can only engage in personal training.
“Football being an entertainment and at the same time a business, The Coronavirus epidemic has impacted negatively on my life because I don’t have entertainment and am finding it difficult to have money which I used to have when I was playing also my fitness levels have decreased as I have gained a lot of weight due to less training time,” Phiri said.
Apart from that uncertainty, several girls are now falling prey to early marriages and unplanned pregnancies. Rainbow Warriors, a lower-tier Women’s football club has already lost three players, one has been married off and two others currently pregnant.
“One is married, two are pregnant, I had a very strong team but is shaken up now,” club proprietor, Terence Shiwawo told the ZamFoot Crew in an interview.
Lusaka FAZ Women’s League side Luyando Foundation Girls is one of the most affected teams during this pandemic. Proprietor and head coach Bernard Chisenga Mwape told the ZamFoot Crew in an interview that operations of the club have been paralysed due to the pandemic.
“Covid -19 has brought a lot of sorrow to sportsmen and women who depend on the sport for survival. The coming of COVID-19 has affected several sports clubs and academies of which the Luyando Foundation is not an exception. Luyando Foundation is a vibrant young team full of young yet talented athletes. Truth be told, the Luyando management has found it difficult to operate during this pandemic as the foundation depends on individual contributions to keep the club up and running. These individuals, however, have no formal employment but rather depends on small personal business who’s the income they use to support the young girls. Their businesses have been paralyzed which has failed to provide the club with the necessary support required to manage the kids under its custody, ” he said.
“The foundation has over 30 young girls it manages under its program. The majority of these girls are orphans and others come from poverty-stricken homes. The management took it upon itself to provide the necessary amenities to these kids such as taking them to school, providing shelter, and of course feeding them. This has nothing t been possible during this period as management is unable to have physical contact with these girls. This has given us thoughtful nights as to how these kids will be safeguarded. A number of these children have been exposed to different version vices in the community and we fear that they might be victims of circumstances.”
“Furthermore, the foundation has a tough nut to crack during this pandemic as it has had a lot of challenges that need urgent attention. Currently, the foundation is facing the following problems;
- Failure to provide transportation for school going children to and from school.
- Failure to provide transportation for its participants to and from training venues for personalized training.
- Failure to provide decent accommodation for the girls.
- Failure to provide training equipment.
- Failure to provide a token of appreciation to both players and the dedicated coaches.
- Failure to provide a decent meal and other girl child requirements to the girls who entirely depend on the foundation for survival,” he added.
Despite all these challenges Mwape said the foundation remains committed to making sure that the girls are provided to help safeguard their lives. He further called on the business world to come on board and supplement the club’s efforts.
“We remain hopeful that someone will come on board with financial muscles to supplement the good job the leaders of the foundation are doing… Our major challenge is transportation, accommodation, and feeding program once someone comes on board in this angle we will be more than grateful.”
In the Women’s national team that qualified for the Olympics close to eight players are products of Bauleni United Sports Academy, a real hub of Women football talent.
The Academy has not been spared by the effects of the pandemic
“When players are not playing we are worried because we don’t know what is happening at home. There are so many things happening at home, The only safe place for most of these kids is at our Academy, the programs that we run, Immediately from School they come for training and that’s a safe place for them, ” He coach and proprietor Kaluba Kangwa told the ZamFoot Crew in an exclusive interview.
“To our dismay, we found out that some of these boys and girls are now involved in illicit activities, We have lost the quality character that we have instilled in them as an Academy. Some of the parents did not do well in safeguarding some of these children, Some were away from home for days and we had to engage the police to search for them, it’s a shame that COVID-19 has done a lot of harm apart from just making people sick. The players are passing through a lot during this time I can assure you,” he added.
Kaluba who also doubles up as Zambia U-17 Women’s national team head coach confirmed that he has received reports of girls who were either pregnant or now started abusing drugs.
“We need material support to help our programs to return and run the way they should. We need to take care of the grassroots now because the repercussions may be far-reaching,” he said.
“The girls are now at a high risk of getting pregnant, They now have a lot of free time to do wrong things. Remember they are not active in playing football, this has a high risk for the players we have taken a long time to develop. Many players are pregnant because they had nothing to do with, It’s very sad and painful because we had invested a lot in them.”
“Children are now abusing drugs and everywhere doing the wrong things. We need to quickly intervene before we lose a whole group of good players,” he added.
The hope now is that a vaccine is quickly found or the world and Zambia, in particular, finds a way to live with the deadly Coronavirus.
FIFA has allocated $500 000 to Women’s football out of their $1.5 million COVID-19 relief fund. It’s the hope of the clubs that the money will be fairly distributed to them to help them resume normal activities especially that Women’s football in Zambia does not attract sponsorship and most of the clubs are run from donations and contributions by good wishers.
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