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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 September, 2004, 15:48 GMT 16:48 UK
Women's game needs facelift
By Mark Gleeson
BBC Sport, Johannesburg

Cameroon's Josephine Bella (left) contests possession with her Ghanaian opponent
Cameroon and Ghana's semi-final attracted typically few fans

The standard of African female football has made a marked improvement over the last decade but interest in this year's African Women's Championship has been worryingly low.

In fact, it has largely been restricted to the growing immigrant communities within South Africa.

The early elimination of South Africa's national side, Banyana Banyana, dulled local interest in what is always a nightmare scenario for organisers as well as the Confederation of African Football (Caf).

Nonetheless, the atmosphere at Tuesday's semi-finals was enlivened by a healthy interest from thousands of South Africa's growing Nigerian, Ghanaian and Ethiopian communities.

Many attended Cameroon's defeat of Ghana as well as the Nigerian destruction of Ethiopia - and Sunday's final in the Johannesburg Stadium should benefit from this expatriate support.

The match pits Cameroon against Nigeria, with the Super Falcons having won the tournament every time it has been played - in 1998, 2000 and 2002.

Unless women footballers are recognised as genuine sportspeople, then we are going to continue to battle
Natasia Tsichlas, a Caf women's football official

And the 3,000 or so Nigerian fans, who have provided vociferous support for their team during its imperious march to the final, should liven up the Johannesburg Stadium, which has room for 65,000 spectators if seating is not required.

An increase in press and television coverage has given the 2004 Women's Championship a decent profile and the South African Football Association (SAFA) has organised a flawless event, complete with generous sponsorship.

However, officials attending the Johannesburg tournament are concerned by the slow development of women's football in Africa.

Palmira Francisco, a member of the Mozambique association, says it is still a constant battle to get any support for the women's game around the continent and the fight for recognition can be exhausting.

While cultural barriers in Africa that had previously counted against women in sport have been largely broken down, getting serious recognition from football officials and sponsors is still near impossible.

"Unless women footballers are recognised as genuine sportspeople in their own right and not as a novelty item, then we are going to continue to battle," said Natasia Tsichlas, a South African member of both Fifa and Caf's women's football committees.

Portia Modise of South Africa

In addition to this continuous fight, many experts on the women's game agree that the sport still lags dramatically behind the men's game.

Only Nigeria and South Africa have ever hosted the African Women's Championship, with no other country ever having expressed interest in holding the bi-annual competition.

As a result, Caf has been forced to beg the bigger member associations to hold the event when the tournament should really be rotated around as many countries as possible.

Yet few associations put serious resources behind their women's teams.

Only Ethiopia, whose federation has concentrated its resources on its female national team following the poor performance of the men, and Ghana bucked this trend, and both thus reached the last four in Johannesburg.

By comparison, South Africa did not assemble their side until a fortnight before the championship.

Banyana Banyana did not play any warm-up internationals and brought in two coaches at the last minute.

It was therefore no surprise that the hosts crashed out in spectacular fashion, losing all three of their group matches.

Tsichlas, known as the Iron Lady of South African football, has thus been hard in her criticism of Safa, accusing the body of going "backwards' in its efforts to promote the national women's team.

It is not the kind of comment the host nation of Africa's largest female championship should be enduring if the women's game is to make any progress.

African Women's Championship 2004
17 Sep 04  |  African
Nigeria to meet Cameroon
28 Sep 04  |  African
Cameroon reach first final
28 Sep 04  |  African

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