Supporting the Growth of Women’s Football

The 2022 WAFCON took place in Morocco with 14 countries represented by their women’s football teams. One of the most popular sports in the world, football is a global culture but it is not immune to the inequalities that plague our society.

The atmosphere was electric, with the Moroccan stadium reaching 90% capacity. Years in the making, women’s football has shown its potential to sponsors, with the aim of growing business support for the women who play the game. 

New heights in women’s football have been reached in quick succession. The 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar will be the first with female referees, including Salima Mukosamba from Somalia who officiated 2022 WAFCON, and anticipation is high for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

Women footballers are becoming household names, praised for their skill and level of play, and serve as role models for young girls who don’t see themselves on the field. Speaking on the power of sports, Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe reiterates, “Football has the ability to entrench or drastically change our perceptions around gender. When women are given the opportunity to become visible, football becomes a national arena for challenging long-held stereotypes and the exclusion of women in business and leadership”.

For a global sport, excluding 50% of the population is an unsustainable business model. In an iconic move towards gender parity, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) has increased the prize money for the winning teams, but a significant gap remains.

Despite men’s and women’s teams requiring similar levels of passion, commitment and skill to participate, the pay gap can be explained by several factors: Less media coverage for women’s football and lower levels of funding has resulted in a self-deprecating loop. Most notable is that, in the face of these challenges, women footballers’ still triumph by winning Championships for countries where even the men’s teams fail – South Africa and USA’s women’s teams are prime examples of this success.

In 2019, South Africa launched the SAFA National Women’s League to quicken the pace of change, developing this elevated space for women’s football to achieve excellence and public recognition. Two years later in 2021, Mamelodi Sundowns (South Africa) beat Hasaacas Ladies (Ghana) to win the inaugural CAF Women’s Champions League and now, Banyana Banyana celebrate their historic win at 2022 WAFCON.

The philosopher Aristotle wrote that, “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” Sports and other cultural activities provide an education of the heart. It teaches social and emotional skills that are necessary for life and in the words of Nelson Mandela “has the power to change the world”.

Promoting and supporting women’s football can have ripple positive effects on the lives of women across other spheres of society. Particularly in Africa, where gender equality has receded since the pandemic, the spectacle of women finding success in a once male-dominated arena will signal necessary cultural shifts.

FIFA Secretary General, Madam Fatma Samoura, spoke of the unrecognised impact of women’s football at the recent Motsepe Foundation International Women’s Day Summit this year:

“Women have purchasing power. When it comes to deciding the sporting programme that the children are watching, the mother has a prominent voice. She’s the one deciding whether this programme is good enough. When the children are also deciding to practice sport, most of the time the father is not there – it’s the woman. When it comes to buying the jersey or sportswear, it’s the mother who is taking the decision. Its critical for people to understand the special power that lays in the hands of women.”

Overall, the exceptionally hosted games by CAF and host country Morocco showcased the growth of women’s football across the continent. Banyana Banyana’s victory is a tremendous achievement for South Africa and its women.