Starved of domestic and international playing opportunities, the Lagos invitational gives Africa’s women footballers a break from boredom.
While women’s football has continued to make steady progress in Europe, the Americas and Asia, the growth of the sport in Africa has been a source of concern for stakeholders in the continent.
Buoyed by the boom in women’s soccer around the world in the 1990s and 2000s, promoters of the game in Africa pushed for the creation of women’s leagues and clubs, while the Confederation of African Football floated the African Women’s Championship, now known as the Africa Women Cup of Nations.
However, amid the supposed development in women’s soccer in Africa came the glaring evidence that what could pass for appreciable development had occurred only in a handful of countries, with Nigeria being the undisputable leader.
Of the 11 editions of the women’s championships held so far, Nigeria’s Super Falcons has taken home the trophy an awe-inspiring nine times.
Meanwhile, lack of progress at the world stage, particularly the FIFA Women’s World Cup, has made many insiders wonder if women’s football was really developing in Africa.
Pundits have attributed the ‘stunted growth’ to a lack of commitment in its management, substandard coaching and playing facilities, inadequate competitions to help sharpen the skills of players and paltry or complete dearth of sponsorship.
It is in a bid to address the latter that the football federation in Nigeria has initiated the Aisha Buhari Invitational Women’s Tournament, scheduled to take place between September 14 to 20.
Named after the wife of Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari, the tournament was the initiative of Nigeria Football Federation President Amaju Pinnick. Footballing powerhouses Cameroon, Ghana, South Africa, Mali, Morocco and hosts Nigeria have all confirmed their participation in the maiden invitational football festival.
Meanwhile, Lagos state governor Babajide Sanwoolu confirmed his state would be hosting the event and gave assurance of the state’s commitment to the success of the competition.
Confessing his love for football, Sanwoolu said the women’s game had continued to pull its weight and could be said to be presently on par with the men’s game in the euphoria that it generates, as well as the sheer class, stamina, excellence and expertise that the players displayed.
‘The opportunities available in football are boundless,’ Sanwoolu enthused, ‘so we will commit to deliver a successful and model event that will spur us to encourage and support women’s football in our institutions of learning.’
While expressing his appreciation to Governor Sanwoolu for Lagos State’s unwavering support to the NFF, the Nigeria Football Federation President Pinnick said the Aisha Buhari tournament must meet the best standards possible because, ‘the Aisha Buhari Cup is a very big project, nothing must go wrong’, adding: ‘We want to do it so well that subsequent editions will have a template to fall back on.’
In July, Nigeria’s Super Falcons travelled to Vienna, Austria, where they had an eight-day training camp in preparation for the invitational.
The camp in Austria was the third gathering of the Super Falcons in 2021, following an interesting three-wins-out-three account at the Women’s Cup in Antalya, Turkey, in February and the Summer Series in the United States in June.
As well as helping players get in top shape, events such as the forthcoming Aisha Buhari tournament allow teams to give new players the chance to make their way into the squads.
For instance, hitherto untested players like Yewande Balogun, Onyinyechi Zogg, Nicole Payne, and Michelle Alozie, who were in Austria with the Falcons, could now get a look-in at the Aisha Buhari invitational.