By Paul Bassey
Twicein four weeks I have had to write on the women game in Nigeria. The last time, I remembered how I was there to cover the first ever Women World Cup in China over 23 years ago and how the game held great promises for Nigeria.
When the men faltered, the women held their own. The Falcons were unbeatable in Africa. Scorelines of 10-0, 8-0 etc were the order of the day.
Though we dominated Africa, we never really held our own on the world stage until FIFA introduced the developmental U-17 and U-20 categories, and Nigeria shone, getting to finals and semi finals over time and promising to win, sooner than later.
About four years ago, the Falcons game dipped. We were no longer the rulers of Africa. Equatorial Guinea took centre stage. Cameroun and South Africa followed and we have not wondered why.
Soon enough, we came to realize that the absence of a veritable league as was hitherto the case also contributed to the down turn of the Women game. Some also accused the NFF of not giving the girls due attention compared to the Super Eagles.
“Attention” here for me could be translated to asking questions and wondering why suddenly the women were not getting enough action even in the areas of sponsorship and the regularity of their league.
For whatever the reason, an effort was made two seasons ago to revive the Falcons and that led to the employment of the experienced coach Khadiri Ikhana, yet it did not work. My relentless crusade to get Edat Egan back on the driving seat ended with the employment of Edwin Okon, a man with so much experience on the domestic scene that you could hardly fault his employment.
Five years as the best coach on the domestic scene with his club Rivers Angels, over ten years experience behind him, there was need to allow Okon tinker with the Falcons as we sought to rebuild the team.
Rebuilding the Falcons means adequate friendly matches, enough support and encouragement, a reinvigoration of the domestic league and a conscious recruitment drive across the nation.
When the Lionesses came calling last week, a friend in the Cameroun Football Federation was quick to remind me that they will not be beaten. That their girls have been in camp for a long time and that since they dumped us out of the London Olympics two years ago they have decided to encourage the women game in the central African country.
True to prediction, Okon and his girls struggled before they could win with a solitary goal and all hell was let loose as panic buttons are now being pressed.
Because we are to play RWANDA ( Capitals mine ) we have decided to invite EIGHT FOREIGN BASED PROFESSIONALS (Capitals mine) . I want to joke by saying that when the opposition is EQUATORIAL GUINEA then like the Super Eagles we will go for 18 FOREIGNERS.
This is definitely not the way to go. I have looked at all the women invited and I want to be proved wrong that there is any one of them that is less than 35. An argument has been made for those of them who are playing in the Swedish league, one considered more competitive than ours.
As it is they will be arriving the country less than ten days before the match and it remains to be seen how soon they can jell and fit into a team that Okon and his colleagues have been trying to build, one that is alien to them.
The problem with the women game in Nigeria will be papered if we just decide to go on a victory seeking crusade instead of developing same.
See you next week.