For a country with a huge population of women (slightly less than half of an estimated 186million according to various sources), Nigeria needs to tap into the sport potentials of this huge demographic.
It is a common fact that women make decisions about household purchases as well as key decisions about which schools and sports children will play and how much time kids will have to play outside the home.
Therefore, I think it is important that we begin to market sport participation to women in order to increase the number of young girls and women that take part in physical activity for us to have a stronger, healthier society.
And which better candidate can be the face of such a campaign at this moment if not Asisat Oshoala, two-time African Women’s Footballer of the Year and two-time African Women Cup of Nations winner and golden boot winner on both occasions.
Oshoala, 22, who plays professional football for Arsenal Ladies in England with where she won the 2016 FA Women’s Cup and was a Liverpool Ladies star before that, is a classic rags-to-riches athlete who discovered her talent early and was lucky enough to have parents who gave her unfettered access to pursue her dreams. Even though playing in England could have been a distant dream at the start of her playing days on dusty, sandy fields in Lagos, sheer effort and focus have put her at the pinnacle of the sport where she has become a globally-recognized professional (first winner of the BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year 2015, Best Player and Golden Boot at the Fifa U20 Women’s World Cup in 2014).
Instead of the Nigerian ministry of sport and Nigeria Football Federation’s focus on qualifying for international competitions, I think they should start to pay greater attention to domestic football and try to build participation in the rural areas, and especially among women.
Nigeria’s women have dominated the African football space since the 1990s and only failed to win just two senior titles since the inception of the Women’s Afcon. This means that there’s a lot of potentials out there. Still, there’s a restriction to the level of participation of girls in sport as we are a traditional society where girls are expected to be in the kitchen and help out with housework as well as fetch firewood among other domestic chores.
However, with Oshoala and other national team players that are now playing their football careers around the world, we see how sport can empower women to be leaders and inspirational figures in Nigerian society.
I hope that role models like Oshoala can become arrowheads of campaigns to encourage more young girls to play sport in order to become healthier and gain physical strength while also improving their leadership and teamwork skills.
Oshoala already uses her small foundation to give back to girls’ football teams during her annual competitions. She’s grounded and approachable and very ambitious.
We have an opportunity to also reduce early marriages and give more life options to our young girls all over the country, that they matter and sport can help them achieve their dreams, just as it does for millions of boys around the world. Sport can be a leveller for our girls and I believe a figure like Oshoala can help lead such a campaign countrywide.