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THE JUGGLER: Why Kenya’s women football is dead and buried

It seems a lot like child’s play, following the goings-on of our ladies. Nay, I am not talking about the women’s athletics team. No, not the women’s volleyball team. Those ones receive recognition, however small and negligible. But the women’s football team? Definitely not.

I was at the Machakos County Stadium two Sundays ago and I was saddened by the sheer neglect the team and their few and sporadic activities have been treated to. The team will be traveling to Egypt for another friendly match later this weekend, but to wish them success sounds just a hypocritical as expecting them to post positive results. Why am I saying this?

You mention the word ‘Starlets’ in any football discourse and everybody around looks at you like you’ve strayed into their midst from planet Mars. Few people know it is Kenya’s national women’s football team, nobody knows that they are gearing up for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games qualifiers coming up in April where they face Botswana, and everyone else just doesn’t care.

Not that I blame anyone. News about the performance of the women’s team is never considered ‘news’. If it ever appears on our dailies, it usually sits on a small strip, many times with the mast “Other News” over it.

Sitting through the two hour encounter, accepting the 1-0 loss afterwards as the only deserving result for a hurriedly assembled team that had trained for only three days, I couldn’t help but wonder whether I would have cared any less if I wasn’t myself a journalist.

I wonder if I am the only person who adores female athletes purely for their skill, resistance and strength. Whether women’s football, women’s physicality struggles to gain any substantial aesthetic appeal simply because it doesn’t involve sex, pain and subordination.

SPORT FOR WOMEN

The Guardian online website recently published an article in the Letters to the Editor section. It was from a reader who explained that soccer just wasn’t designed for women, and that watching girls play is boring because “when tackled, they just get up and play. They don’t fake falls, they don’t pretend to be hurt. They don’t dive. Don’t get opponents sent off. And worse of all, they don’t hassle the match officials”.

Surely, I think I saw a little bit of all those things on Sunday.

The notion that football is not a suitable sport for women is one that has been propagated consistently enough across the globe that the Americans have come up with Lingerie Football, which has quickly changed name to the Legend Football League to gain credibility.

Like the name suggest, Lingerie football is the women’s version of American football played in the summer by sexy girls wearing nothing but helmets, innerwear, and shoulder pads. It was created in 2009 after the realization that we are an aesthetically driven society, and the response it has enjoyed, obviously because it offers menfolk a lot to see and women even more to talk about, has been overwhelming.

Back to the local scenario, it should be noted that the Harambee Starlets have not played against any officially ranked team in over five matches, and are only provisionally listed in 133rd position, the same position held by all the other unranked teams. Bottom of the table.

Not that our men’s national team is performing any better. But I still spot fans in team colors whenever Harambee Stars are playing. What is clear for Fifa in general and the Football Kenya Federation in particular is that the betterment of the women’s football forms no part of their 2015 resolutions.

Last week a certain website carried the story under the headline: Kenyan women disappoint against Egypt in all Africa games qualifier.

Very misleading considering that it was a mere friendly match but for the sake of his ignorance, I beg to paint the true scenario surrounding the Starlets.

MAJOR SETBACK

Welcome to Kenyan women’s national football team, where team selection is done a week before the match and in no organized fashion.

You see, there is no national women’s league. And the women’s mini-leagues down at the county level are more seasonal than the pear fruit. And the team practically dies after a tournament, only to be revived again two days before another tournament two months later.

To put it plainly, women football in Kenya is dead. And if lack of proper support systems is not the major setback, then it shares second position with sinful unwillingness from the responsible administrators to develop that area.

It is little wonder therefore, that the women’s team has been perennial bottom-placed where Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa lead the pack. These countries have the Under 17 and Under 20 tournaments supplementing a fully functional and enlivened national women’s league. Which begs the question, how are we supposed to not disappoint?

The answer lies in getting the Football Kenya Federation and other responsible organs to do their job in terms of enlivening the national league, and then get well-wishers and sponsors to chip in with the finances.

Otherwise, we will continue to waste valuable resources sending the team to humiliate the country abroad, and the Fifa rankings will continue to stagnate at the base of the table.