2017 year review: Women football slowly coming of age but there is work to be done

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The Football Kenya Federation Women Premier League season concluded on December 10th after months of players and teams battling on the pitch.

The league once again experienced a series of challenges although it had its fair share of successes and a huge room for improvement.

Starting on a rather slow note after experiencing a series of postponements where it was first slated to kick off on March 18th  ,then the date was changed to April 1st and clubs finally settled on April 15th teams made efforts to honor matches albeit with difficulty.

This situation necessitated the league to go on a two-weeks break after every two fixtures upon the request of clubs.

The 2016 season had witnessed a number of walkovers that were attributed to lack of funds and the trend was spilling over to 2017 with Zone B side Vihiga Leeds being the first team to hand a walkover, as they failed to turn up for their clash against Oserian Ladies in the second week of fixtures.

Thus when teams requested for the break to sort ‘in-house’ affairs it might have slowed down the league but was a blessing in disguise as fewer walkovers were witnessed after.

It was a step in the right direction, having the federation provide essential services like ambulance, paying for venues and match officials and as we outline the season that was, the league has a long way to go.

With the numerous challenges at its onset, many were pessimistic that the league would come to a meaningful let alone fruitful conclusion.

The postponements and constant requests for breaks were disheartening. However, the organizers, clubs and most importantly players, held on and the season was crowned with beautiful football displayed at the finals. Unlike some seasons that have seen matches abandoned mid season.

The champions, Vihiga Queens, clinched their maiden title and the trophy came with Sh 100,000 prize money. This is a drop in the ocean compared to what other female footballers get globally. Our neighbors Uganda,for instance,awarded their most valuable player a brand new Toyota Alteeza and one million Ugandan shillings (close to Sh 29,000).

Relegation of clubs

Zone B of the Premier League concluded the season with seven teams owing to the relegation of Nyamira Starlets after three walk overs and questions still linger on how the situation should have been handled. Should we play by the book for a growing league?

If the league had a sponsor,for example, the team that handed the three walkovers stating lack of funds to travel for matches as their reason, would have had a fighting chance.

Women football is not appreciated for its competitiveness globally and it’s no different with WPL. However, football lovers should know that the female version of the sport is equally entertaining and competitive.

Those who took their time to attend the season finale at Camp Toyoyo would attest to the fact that the level of skill and competition on display was awe-inspiring.

Clubs and players, against all odds, have made themselves better at what they do. We can only hope that someone will see their passion and improve their playing conditions.

Lack of sponsorship

This is the elephant in the room on matters women football. Clubs are struggling for lack of sponsorship and the federation has not found a sponsor for the league yet, despite that being their promise upon assuming office in 2016.

The corporate sector has given the league and clubs a wide berth,but it is the federation’s responsibility to convince sponsors that there is value for money in backing women football.

The federation is in talks with various people in search of sponsors but nothing concrete has been reported yet.

Harambee Starlets

Harambee Starlets. PHOTO| COURTESY.

It was another good year for the national women team. Harambee Starlets picked from where they left last year, having qualified for Africa Cup of Nations and finished second in the Cecafa Senior Challenge which was making a comeback after a three decade absence.

This year, they were invited to participate in the fifth edition of Council of Southern Africa Football Association (COSAFA) Women’s Championship as guests and they stormed into the semifinals.

The side kept an unbeaten run in the group stages, registering three wins for maximum nine points and scoring 17 goals while at it. Five against Mozambique, 11 while playing Mauritius and one to Swaziland.

It was also another milestone in the sport as a junior team was formed (Under 20) and took part in World Cup qualifier matches. The side started their campaign from the preliminary rounds where they saw off Botswana 7-1 playing away, prompting the opponents to withdraw from the return match.

They went ahead to defeated Ethiopia 4-3 on aggregate in the first leg to book a date with Ghana in the penultimate round of the qualifiers.

There hopes of featuring in the world cup were however crushed by the Black Princesses who crushed them 10-1 on aggregate.

With the two teams having faced some of the best sides in the continent, the level of confidence in players has improved and with the right exposure and support, Kenyan women football will be a force to reckon with.

However, the same support should be extended to clubs and the league as the players hone their skills at that level.

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