When Kurt Okraku, Ghana FA new President walked onto the pitch at McDan park at La to kick the ball to usher in the 2019/20 Women’s premier league season, there were respectable eyeballs watching.
By the standards of the Women’s game in the West African country, the numbers were unprecedented, the kick off never seen before, too.
There are those who believe the presence of the first citizen of the country’s football drew the numbers, but week in and out, people turned out in their numbers to watch matches at venues across the country.
Others, whom hitherto had no interest in the game, paid attention via livestreams.
Never before has there been such attention given to Women’s football, and never before has women’s football had such a platform to be seen by masses who do not make it to the stadia for varied reasons.
With the wealth of talent and quality always undermined, the two months of league football offered an opportunity to change attitudes.
The 7th edition of the Women’s premier league which appeared to have a well laid down plan to take off, drove that message.
It made great strides in the early days of 2020. Attendances at games increased game by game, media hype and euphoria grew higher with matches viewed on Facebook setting a record of 5.8k views.
Kurt Okraku and Hillary Boateng, head of the women’s league committee, had just started, but won hearts. Aficionados emerged as matches drew bigger audience. There was a sense that the now canceled football season could be a turning point.
This was a season that would propel the women’s game into wider consciousness, a season that provides an opportunity to not only build on the foundation but to surpass the achievement and break grounds.
But, the COVID-19 pandemic has left the game in unwarranted position. If the men’s game has suffered enormously, there will be a deeper and more far reaching consequences for the women’s game.
Confederation of African football (CAF), gave us an idea. When the continent’s football governing body took a decision to postpone men’s division of their competitions, they canceled the Women’s AFCON; a testimony of how the sport continue to lurk behind.
Ghana FA has keen interest in growing women’s game in Ghana with a plan of doubling the number of women and girls taking part in football, and improving commercial prospects.
When the Youth Employment Agency (YEA), made available a financial package to support 1000 athletes for the next half a year, the GFA handed it to the girls.
The FA President described it as a Game Changer, but the real Game Changer, is the impact this would have on women who desire to be part of football, the real Game Changer, is the message sent to the world that, women’s football is core for the FA.
If there’s more, women would have their share of the cake, but at this point those in charge of football, are grappling with how to recover from the havoc caused by COVID-19.
The havoc that has left the development hanging by a tailor thread. The havoc, that has forced some football teams to be under a self induced ‘lockdown’.
Since COVID-19 showed its ugly head, some clubs have made little or no efforts to sustain the standards set to improve awareness about the existence of the league.
It was mandatory for all participating teams in the 2019/20 women’s league to have a social media page to keep their fans informed, engaged and entertained.
But, some teams killed that vibe even before football was halted; there were no updates on the club or players daily activities in absence of matches.
With many already not interested, this compounded the significant challenges women’s football faced such as branding and marketing which is key in getting investors on board.
Prior to the pandemic, elite women’s football was already facing poor pitches, lower wages or no wages at all according to Kurt Okraku; prize money and conditions were equally far behind the men’s teams.
More saddening is the fact that, teams rely on the FA for income, and this, clearly indicates the teams are underfunded when compared to men’s football.
COVID-19 has hit many businesses’ profits hard, leaving companies who previously had interest to invest in women’s football unable to, if this causes the pool of sponsors to shrink – a pool that is already small, the future of women’s football will remain under financial threat.
Steps to save the game?
Women’s football had faced tough times from the scratch, it is resilient. So, COVID-19 may not be a fatal blow.
Notwithstanding, swift and decisive action is needed to sustain the recent momentum and its growth.
Women’s football should be viewed as a core business and not as a goodwill gesture to the community, hence, taking their branding and marketing game a further level.
One of the elementary factors hampering female football was the players’ attitude.
These footballers are often on a short-term contracts and they juggle other jobs and family responsibilities alongside their football careers.
There are also the issues surrounding well-being that might be felt more acutely in the sector, but clubs must actively work to supports players.
Clubs should be entrepreneurial and innovative in their approaches to generating revenue, such as fundraising and a huge presence on the internet.
Official club websites and social media activities, might just sell them to the world.
An organisation which is not on the internet rapidly, then it’s more like lighting a candle and putting it under a basket.
There is a sustained demand for women’s football when the game restarts and the teams needs to keep high supporters interest to continue advancing a “new age” of women’ football.