By Awa Makalo
Since the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic, all sectors of people’s lives, including sport activities were grind to a halt.
Already faced with many contraints and marginalisation even before the pandemic, Gambia’s female footballers’ plight took another turn for the worse when the first case of the virus was detected in the country in March 2020.
The country declared a state of public emergency, which led to the cancellation of all football leagues including the female league as well as inter-female football competitions among communities in the Greater Banjul Areas.
But in a dramatic twist of events, the world football governing body Fifa endorsed a special financial assistance called Covid- Relief for its members and the Gambia Football Federation (GFF) benefited millions of dalasis from this package.
The package also included a $500,000 allocated specifically for female football. Through this package female football teams in the first and second division leagues were presented hundreds of thousands of dalasis while the Women Football Association also benefited from funds to support their activities in developing female football.
Sainey Sissohor- Mboge a former Gambian international player and currently, coordinator of female football said the money from Fifa has had a positive effect on female football. She lauded the availability of much needed funds from which players benefited in not only cash but also in kind with the provision of materials of different kinds. “So though Covid may not be a desirable thing, it has however ironically lifted Gambian female football to another level with this unprecedented huge support that also helped some players with an opportunity to go back to school. We have now restarted the leagues which are going progressively and there have been marked improvements in the technical abilities of players and coaches who are on daily basis expanding their knowledge with capacity building training programmes,”she explained.
Sainey further disclosed that four projects were launched by the Gambia Football Federation (GFF) through the FIFA support fund to help female football teams get back to work.
Marcel Mendy, the Executive Director of the National Sports Council, NSC, the technical arm of the government for sports, explained that the fucntion of his office is to directly deal with sports associations with a view to supporting them achieve their domestic and international activities . He said these include supporting national teams including national female teams and even athletics teams. “Certainly we have plans for all athletes in the Gambia as national teams belong to the government. We are working with the GFF to ensure that the international activities of the national female team, example the qualifiers are accomplished without hitches and we are waiting on a budget from the GFF, which will be reviewed and funds will be provided as per the request on the budget,” Mendy said.
Penda Bah, women’s national team captain said the uncertainty brought about by the pandemic traumatised most of them with some players quitting, some getting married and now carrying babies. “Everything was blocked and stagnant as there was no information relating to sport activities in the country. This was mind torturing, as a lady, because even if we relax for few days, we begin to develop weight and experience some changes in our bodies. The virus really dragged us back and we are now starting afresh”, Bah said.
Meanwhile international media outlets like The Guardian recently released a report on the impacts of COVID-19 suggesting that professional women footballers through out the globe have been affected by the pandemic. Most countries have reported that communication from clubs and leagues has been poor, The Gambia included.
Anpther survey, conducted by Fifpro (the Fédération internatinale des Associations de Footballeurs Professionnels) also was discovered that the global players’ union, found 52% of the 62 countries surveyed, between July and October had national federations that did not contact women national team players, while in 26% of countries women’s clubs were not included in the return to play protocols.