Highlighting mistreatment, discrimination against women in sports and government’s deliberate inaction

Angel (not her real name) is a native of Bwari Area Council of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and is the first child in a family of six, whose father is a farmer and mother a petty trader.

Angel loved gymnastics and wished to become a star, leading to her parents enrolling her in a coaching class at age five.

At 10, Angel was already doing well and representing her school in competitions.

But her dream of becoming a full-time gymnast was cut short when her gymnastics coach raped her when she turned 15.

“This is what big girls do. At 15, you should explore other things. Being my lover will make you grow big and strong,” was what her coach told her before she was abused.

Out of fear of stigmatisation her parents forced her into marriage, abruptly ending Angel’s dream of becoming a gymnast.

Angel’s story is the story of many young women who would have excelled in sports but whose dreams and aspirations were truncated simply because of their gender.

The abuse and discrimination women face in sports occur in different forms, such as physical, sexual, emotional and systemic, while they also face exploitation through athlete-trafficking.

For many Nigerian women, participation in sports presents an opportunity to escape poverty and create a better future for themselves, even though it comes with a heavy price for many.

Engaging in sports activities is a lifeline for the willing Nigerian girl-child.

It can provide a safe haven from poverty and crime, while also teaching valuable life skills such as teamwork, discipline and perseverance.

A recent study shows that there are 1.9 million fewer women than men playing sports regularly (at least once per week).

In spite of the importance of sports to women, many factors have continued to hinder their participation.

These include parental influence, discouragement, unavailability of standard facilities and equipment, coping with societal and academic stress, and poor government policies.

The scarcity of opportunities for women in certain sports is another facet of discrimination. Some sports traditionally dominated by men receive more attention, funding, and developmental resources. This creates barriers for women aspiring to excel in these fields, perpetuating gender imbalances and limiting the growth of women’s sports

A former Director of Sports, FCT Sports Council, Mrs Dilichukwu Onyedinma, said over time there has been systemic discrimination and mistreatment of women in sports.

She said that before the present generation, parents almost did not allow their girl-children to participate in sports at all, as they believed that some activities were meant for men.

As time went on and more women engaged in sports, it was difficult for government and other stakeholders to treat women equally as their male counterparts.

“Just as we realised that women can also do certain sports, society is also realising that there’s no difference between a man and a woman during competition.

“So, this is why all these differences in allowances and conditions of camping and the rest should not be there.

“We can’t rule out the fact that discrimination of women in sports has always been there. But, as we are coming up, society is realising that there’s no need for it.

”I think we have come a long way to understand that there shouldn’t be this discrimination and mistreatment of women,” she said.

Speaking of a deliberate policy for women in sports by government, Onyedinma said that there are no particular policies targeted at encouraging women in sports.

The FCT Gymnastics Coach, Rose Verissimo, corroborated Onyedinma, saying government has no policy for women in sports but it is rather busy focusing on male athletes.

“It is mostly the women that will go out and represent the country, win major trophies and bring pride and honour to the country, while the men don’t bring anything.

“But over time the men are the ones who are given special preference, good accommodation, allowances and vehicles.”

Verissimo, who is also the Technical Director of the Gymnastics Federation of Nigeria, said female gymnasts in the FCT have been topping the chart in terms of medals won for years now.

”But the FCT Administration has failed to recognise them as it should be.

“Women in sports in FCT are only considered when the men are okay. The men are enjoying the money more than the women and the women are suffering,” she lamented.

Verissimo’s point is not out of place, considering that the Nigerian women’s basketball and football teams have out-performed their male counterparts in the past two decades.

The same applies to the country’s Olympic contingents over the same period.

As Jide Alaka, a sports enthusiast, pointed out: “Tobi Amusan is Nigeria’s first-ever world champion and record-holder. All 12 gold medals Nigeria gathered at the Commonwealth Games in 2022 were also won by women.

“The World Athletics Championships yielded two medals — one gold, and one bronze. Female athletes won both.”

The President, Association of Former Female Athletes of Nigeria, Dr Toyin Aluko, said one major discrimination women face in sports is lack of encouragement from the men.

Narrating what she went through, Aluko said she first experienced it when she retired as a handball player and decided to go into coaching.

“I decided to go into coaching and I told my national handball coach who was still in service then about my intentions, but he told me to go into sports organising.

“In Nigeria, coaching is a male-dominated profession and, being a young girl taking interest in coaching, my national coach, who I felt should encourage me ended up discouraging me but I didn’t allow that to determine my future.”

She said when she was employed by the then National Sports Commission (now Federal Ministry of Sports Development), it was as a coach in training because the secretary to the National Institute for Sports (NIS) highly recommended her.

“During national and international competitions, the said coach won’t add my name even on the female teams. He will only put his name as the coach,” Aluko said.

She also said that she had studied the situation in Nigeria and that there are very few teams that have female officials, even in female teams.

Aluko also pointed at officiating as another area of sports, where women are having participation problems.

Also, Mrs Gloria Obi, Basketball coach, and head of technical, FCT Basketball Association said in contrast to their male counterparts, women athletes often encounter inadequate support systems.

She said this deficiency extends beyond financial backing to encompass coaching, mentorship, and sports science resources. The absence of comprehensive support hampers the holistic development of women in sports, contributing to a persistent gender gap in performance and achievement.

“The underrepresentation of women in various facets of sports, including leadership roles and decision-making positions, amplifies the mistreatment they face.

“The lack of diverse voices in governing bodies perpetuates outdated policies and practices that disadvantage women. Achieving true equality requires a shift in the structures that govern sports to ensure the inclusion of women at all levels,’’ she said.

Mrs Favor Adamu, a Guidance and Counseling Coach, said though engaging in sporting activities are of immense benefits to children as it develop life skills, discrimination abounds in it.

Adamu, highlighted the immense benefits of sports to children’s growth and development.

She noted that sporting activities have many benefits for children, even more than the physical activity during play.

According to her, it enables them benefits from the social side of working in a team, interacting with people from different backgrounds and environment.

” It helps them to cope well when it comes to success or failure, at times they win or fail, which is very common in any activity or competition and also teaches them how to cope when they fail or win. They learn not to throw tantrums or upset because they failed.

“These are lessons that they learn from engaging in sporting activities and translate it to their adulthood, especially in the workplace.”

According to her, most adults that take failure the hard way when they fail in any venture whether politics, business or relationship, were not exposed to sports at a young age.

The coach, however, added that cultural and social norms had hindered girls from exploiting sporting activities.

” Even girls that have that zeal and passion to excel in sports are discouraged either from their family or society from engaging in it.

” Some are even more qualified and play better than the boys, but they are not been encouraged to thrive in the career,” she lamented.

According to her, considering the benefits inherent in it, there is the need for the government to initiate policies that will encourage girls and women to engage in sporting activities.

After what was widely regarded as “best-ever” league in Abuja, the FCT FA Chairman, Adam Mohammed, said the focus would shift to putting a proper structure for women’s football in the FCT.

According to him, there’s no structure for women’s in the FCT, but we don’t want to adopt the ‘fire-brigade’ approach by rushing into a league.

“Rather we want to start by getting the sport to the girls in the secondary schools and then stage an inter-school girls’ competition that will eventually lead to setting up a proper league.”

However, the crux of the matter is what efforts has the Nigerian government put in place to address the situation?

It is indisputable fact that there are series of promises on the side of government to building a nation devoid of gender discrimination.

Through this, the Nigerian government says it will guarantee equal access to political, social and economic wealth-creation and opportunities for women and men.

It also said it is developing a culture that places a premium on the protection of all, including women and children.

It is however observed that there have not been much concrete evidence on ground on the side of government in fulfilling its promises of commitment.

A way out of this is what the Chairman of Sports Writers Association of Nigeria (SWAN) in the FCT, Bunmi Haruna, is proffering.

He said sports federations and agencies should provide an enabling environment for the inclusion of more women in sports governance in Nigeria.

Haruna said the contributions of women to the development of sports in Nigeria are well documented.

“This thereby makes it right to call on government, sports federations and parastatals to provide an enabling environment for more women to participate in sports governance in Nigeria.”

No doubt, women are battling so many hurdles just to participate in sports: from sex-testing to sexual harassment, and to wage differences, decision-making and management, the list is endless.

However, there are reasons to be hopeful.

For instance, the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand broke all sorts of records in the women’s game —- ticket sales, viewership, sponsorship and participation.

Also, female national team players in the U.S., England, Brazil, Australia, Norway and New Zealand now earn equal pay as their male counterparts.

In Nigeria, one organisation that is facilitating equality and a level-playing field in sports participation is the Fund, Educate, Empower and Develop (FEED) Sports.

FEED Sports is a non-governmental organisation that supports sports and education in Nigeria and has provided support to over 5,000 school children, including girls.

This is by introducing them to the sport of fencing and supporting them through school.

But stakeholders insist there should be more, just like in other aspects of national life.

They say government at all levels should be deliberate about the inclusion and participation of women in sports, as well as the eradication of all forms of abuses and discrimination.

They also suggest a horizontal and vertical collaboration by the government, the private sector and international organisations for Nigeria to come up with a national policy for women in sports.

Also, adequately punishing all forms of gender biases and abuse against women in sports will serve as a deterrent and increase the willingness to participate.

And this is why organisations such as FEED Sports should be supported as a way of promoting sports and encouraging girls to participate in sports in safe, secure and free environments

Mrs Bose Aderogba, coach of FCT Hockey Association submitted that economic disparities between male and female athletes are stark and pervasive. From pay gaps to sponsorship opportunities, women often find themselves on the less lucrative side of the spectrum.

Aderogba said this financial inequality not only affects the athletes individually but also undermines the perceived value of women’s sports as a whole, perpetuating a cycle of underinvestment and neglect.

She said that the inter-sectionality of motherhood and sports introduces unique challenges for women athletes. Many face hurdles in terms of maternity leave, contractual obligations, and the fear of career setbacks.

Recognising and addressing these challenges is essential for creating an environment where women can pursue both their athletic and family aspirations without compromise..(NANFeatures).

** If used, please credit the writer and News Agency of Nigeria

Source: News Agency of Nigeria

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