Fingers crossed in Nigeria as the women's national team faces world champion Germany in the preliminary round today. With a successful match against difficult opponents, women's soccer could gain further popularity in Africa's most populous country. Nevertheless, a sour taste remains.
Kenny Ann Bebeyi and her teammates stand close together. They have formed a circle on the dark green artificial turf and are praying half aloud. They don't even ask God for victories; that would be too presumptuous. Instead, they wish he would protect them and keep them from getting hurt. Even a fall on Nigeria's usually bumpy and stone-strewn soccer fields could mean the temporary end of her career. And they all want to make a career, especially at this moment.
The "Super Falcons"
Ahead for the young female soccer players is a two-week tournament in Port Harcourt, where they will represent the capital Abuja. At the same time, however, they are also looking to Germany, where the "Super Falcons," as the Nigerian national team calls itself, is expected to save Africa's honor and make it very far to the top.
That's what Kenny Ann Bebeyi wishes too. The now 19-year-old has been kicking for many years – and has been lucky: She received the support of her father, who told her, "Play if you want to." A liberal attitude in Nigeria. "I told him it's just the gift God gave me, and my father acknowledged it," says the lanky player, smiling cautiously.
Not all young women are so lucky. Although Nigeria attempted to establish professional women's soccer in the early 1990s, many prejudices persist to this day. Soccer? How unfeminine! Those who kick don't have children later, and the female players, he said, are far too lightly dressed. But gradually a change has begun. He has the outstanding Falcons to thank, who are considered Africa's best team – even though they have so far failed to reach the quarterfinals at the latest in world championships.
Fame and money
Nevertheless, the successes motivate the next generation of players, who realize: Success on the pitch can bring fame and money; sport is being discovered as a source of income. So, unlike in Germany, chasing goals is not a hobby; it's a calculation. Even if the amounts are small, and in the initial phase often only free training, room and board are included, it is a possible way out of poverty. Most Nigerian female soccer players come from poor homes.
However, until they have made it and can live from their sport to some extent, they have to take a lot on themselves. Poor training conditions are just one of the problems. Much greater is that of sexual abuse. Many coaches threaten: Only against sex I put you in the next game. Kenny Ann Bebeyi, however, shakes his head. "No, it's never happened to me before."
According to estimates of many scene experts, she should thus be an exception. "It's a big problem that tragically no one talks about," says Yomi Kuku, who heads the Search and Groom organization in Lagos and fights against discrimination against female players. But there has been no official campaign to draw attention to coach abuses in the run-up to the World Cup. Even more money for the chronically underfunded sport has not flowed. The great Falcons should still win on Thursday.