Women football ‘turning around’ under Pinnick –Aide

The current board of Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) has wallowed from one form of controversy to another as long as administration of the country’s soccer especially Women football is concerned. NFF President’s Aides on Women football, Harry Awurumibe, this time choose to shed light on some of the raging issues. IKENNA OKONKWO and PAUL OKAH bring this thought to you.

My romance with Nigeria Women football
I’ve been involved in sports journalism for more than thirty years. I worked for more than ten years with Guardian newspapers and rose to the position of Entertainment Page Editor of Guardian Express, which was the evening edition of Guardian newspaper. Later on, I was transferred to the sports desk of the daily newspaper, as a sports writer and Sub Editor of sports. I later left Guardian newspapers and founded my monthly 40-page all glossy colour magazine. I rested my magazine to work as Personal Assistant on Football Matters to Dr Ikedi Ohakim, the former Governor of Imo State. From there, I started working with NFF President, Amaju Pinnick, as a special Adviser on Women Football Affairs for about three years now

Interest in Women football, my driving force
My passion to make a difference has been my driving force, because I studied Mass Communication in the University and in Print Journalism. I’ve been in print journalism for a long time now. I’ve been promoting female football for the past thirty years.

There’s no way you can talk about the contribution of people to the development of female football in Nigeria without mentioning my name. I’ve championed it; players, officials and coaches are benefiting from it today. My passion for the development of female football is not borne out of selfish interest but I want to make a difference, to give back to society and leave a legacy for people to remember in Nigeria, Africa and in the world. I was instrumental to the conception and actualization of African Women Championship in 1998, when Nigeria participated for the first time. I was one of those that popularized female football in the newspaper. In NTA, I was given an opportunity to talk about female football for one or two minutes every Saturday by Malam Danladi Bako and Malam Yenusa Tanko Abdullahi. Every day in the Guardian newspaper, I wrote sports stories on female football and I met senior colleagues in the newspaper, radio and television who gave me opportunities, but it was the selling point in Guardian.

Challenges staring on Women football in Nigeria
Just like everything in the world, female football in Nigeria has not been a bed of roses. There have been ups and downs in Nigerian female football. I was involved when we started off, to make sure that female football took its root in the late 1980s, specifically from 1988,1989,1990 and 1991,which was the first time Nigeria qualified to play in the first Female World Cup in China. I was involved and was instrumental to Nigeria having a female football team today, because of a story I wrote in early 1991. It was then home and away basis for qualification to play in the Female World Cup in Africa. CAF had not got a competition like the 8-team African women Championship that has now been rechristened African Women Cup of Nations. I have played a role at every point and I have seen it in the past thirty years. There was a time in the recent past when the team was going low and that’s why the Amaju Pinnick led NFF thought it wise to make use of someone like me, who have been at the forefront in the development and promotion of female football to come over to Macedonia and help out.

Women football under Pinnick’s era
Since I joined the team for the past two years, the tempo has risen. Female footballers are now earning better in their club sides. We are now playing professional female football in Nigeria. We have teams that are paying players and coaches very well. It is all because of the impetus I brought alongside the NFF. We now have a female football professional body, just like the league management board that is operating outside the Nigerian Football Federation. There is a football league office operating in the National Stadium Abuja Package B. Led by Aisha Falode, they own their offices and are doing great things. There have been remarkable improvements for the better, courtesy of what the NFF and I brought to the table. Female footballers are receiving nothing less than 50,000 naira per month. Teams like Rivers Angels, Delta Queens, Edo Queens, Amazons of Lafia in Nassarawa, Bayelsa Queens, Ibom Queens and other female football clubs across the country are being paid from 70,000 to more than 100,000 naira per month. The leagues are leveraging on the government and are doing better now. They have a full fledged board and are members of the NFF. They have also been receiving sponsorship. They had the Champions Shield in Lagos earlier this month, under the sponsorship of the Lagos State Government in Agege stadium. It was like a carnival and the expenses was taken care of by the Lagos State Government and money given to the participants.

The two teams that played Champion of Champions, the Challenge Cup, Winners of the Nigerian League, Rivers Angels and Nassarawa Amazons were all rewarded by the government. The tempo is rubbing off and the national teams are also doing well. We have African Women Nations Cup coming up this year in Cameron between November and December,where Nigeria will participate and probably pick a ticket the Championship and for the World Cup in France next year. We have the amateur league and many clubs are playing there, just like Heartland female team that was formed sometime last season. They played in amateur and this year there have qualified to play in the female professional leagues. If they didn’t play in the amateur, how would they come in? Even in Lagos State, they have state leagues specifically for over twenty club sides. You have to play in the amateur before the premier league. There is a Joko Delu team that has also qualified to play in the premier league this year. Many teams are involved in the leagues.

National teams nemesis under current NFF
Coming to the national team, competition is every two years at the Under 17 and Under 20 levels for the World Cup. Africa has no competition for the under 17 or under 20. There will be activity towards the end of next year for the 2020 World Cup because it comes every two years. The Under-17 could not qualify this time because they had a hitch. They couldn’t qualify this time and needs more preparation, after qualifying for 9 editions. I am a student of history and I believe that Empires rise and fall and it is from the ashes of the fallen empires that would rise a greater empire. That the Under 17 couldn’t qualify will tell you that we need better preparation.
The Under 20 qualified easily and Nigeria has never missed any edition at the Under 20 level. We are going for World Cup later this year in France. Super Falcons are in good shape and are still going to Ghana to defend the trophy we won in Cameron two years ago. Our qualifiers are coming by the first week of June and we have started preparation by having international friendlies with the team we are going to play next week. Everything is working according to plans and no team in Africa can compare with what Nigeria is doing in women football.

Blame Coach Bala Nkiyu for Flamingos ouster
In any team, it’s the coach that’s to blame for anything going wrong because he prepared the team. For instance, in the recent friendly match between Nigeria and Poland, the coach would have been blamed if we lost. The Under 17 coach might not have gotten one or two things right, but we can’t wish him away. Coach Bala handled the team that has produced quality players in the likes of Rashidat Ajibade that is doing great things in the Under 20, Gloria Ogbonna and Joy Duru, a defender from Nassarawa Amazon. No fewer than 7 players that played for under 17 are currently playing and are starters for the Under 20. Nigeria is a big country and we wouldn’t like to do what other countries do when you come to play in their home ground. We are very hospitable, but we receive the opposite when we go away, but it won’t deter us. We weren’t beaten, but a draw wasn’t enough for us to qualify, as we played 2:2 at home and 1:1 in Cameron, but that doesn’t mean the coach or the team should be thrown away.

Super Falcons ripe for World Cup truimph
We are ripe enough to win the World Cup. I won’t deny that I supported the idea of a foreign coach for female football. The Super Eagles have a foreign coach and 90 percent of the players are playing under quality coaches in Europe. There is no Nigerian coach that will lead the Super Falcons to the Finals or Semi Finals of the World Cup at the senior level. If a country like America would hire a Sweden, Pierce Sonharge, that took them to two Olympic games and won Gold twice and was with them for more than eight years, there’s no regrets that I suggested a foreign coach for the female football team. The foreign coach will work with Nigerian coaches who will learn from him, as part of empowerment and developmental projects of Amaju Pinnick, to make sure that the coach stays and works in Nigeria everyday, instead of sending the local coaches away. The coach, Thomas Denabe, has a pedigree and has taken Sweden to 3rd place finish in the World Cup and has 4th place finish in the Olympics. He is a World Cup and Olympics experienced coach.

France friendly tour
The team is going to play against the national team of France, which is 3rd or 4th in the world today. They invited Nigeria and preparations are on ground to make sure that the team will travel to make Nigeria proud. The team will leave on the 2nd or 3rd of April. Most of the players are based in Europe or China; only few are going from Nigeria. So the coach is going to meet them for the first time and will have a firsthand knowledge of our first team. He has played Nigeria at different times at the World Cup, but he is now the manager and this is the first time he will come in contact with the players.

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