THE performance of the Zambia women’s team, popularly known as Copper Queens, at the ongoing FIFA World Cup in Australia/New Zealand has given hope for the future but only if more investment can be ploughed into the game.
Qualifying for the World Cup was no mean achievement as the Copper Queens were among only the four African countries out of the 54 nations to be among the 32 teams from across the over 195 countries in the world.
Women’s football has been growing at a steady pace in the country as evident by the qualifications to the African Women Championship which later changed to the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations. The Copper Queens, Shepolopolo as previously known, used to get eliminated in the first round but gradually started making the top four.
Mind you, Zambia was the only African country to compete at the delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games after which the team finally managed to win the elusive COSAFA Cup.
All these strides that the team continues to achieve need to be commended with a pat on the back to the Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) which has deliberately decided to attach importance to women’s football.
Yes! some people will criticise and laugh at the performance of the girls at the World Cup where they lost 5-0 to Japan and Spain without taking into consideration how far behind Zambian women’s football is compared to these two countries that are also highly ranked above the Copper Queens.
Japan are the former champions (2011) and were runners-up in 2015 to the United States, and currently ranked 11 while Spain are among the favourites for the title and ranked sixth in the world compared to Zambia ranked 77 and making a debut.
Of course excuses are not needed at this moment but there is need to understand that qualification for the globe event was a big achievement for a team without a sponsored league, except for government policy to sponsor the women’s team and pay them like the men.
So Zambia would continue to lag behind if sponsorship, which remains the biggest cry of the many teams competing in the FAZ National League as well as those in the Provincial Leagues, is not looked at.
As stated by President Hakainde Hichilema in his message to the team yesterday; “To further develop our team’s capabilities, we should provide our girls with more exposure to competitive friendlies and strengthen the women’s domestic league,” he said.
Many at times FAZ have called on the corporate world to come on board and help sponsor the women’s league but most of them still have their arms folded waiting until some achievement is recorded.
The current development in the women’s game provides a great opportunity to invest into the game so that talent could be identified and nurtured at a young age starting with schools and communities.
It is by having a strong grassroots base that the country would continue having a steady progression of players to feed the various national teams (U-17, 20 and senior team).
For now, it will be difficult for the players to perform at the level of Spain, Japan, Brazil for as long as no proper investment is ploughed into the game. All these teams doing well at the World Cup have ensured their leagues are strong and well sponsored to even attract good players to add value in the league.
Thus for now, we can only applaud the girls for flying the Zambian flag high at the World Cup and not reading much into the results until when we heavily invest into the women’s game can we start demanding for desired results at such level.