The 2022 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (WAFCON) has been a celebration of football on the continent. Regardless of who wins the final between Morocco and South Africa, the continent will crown a new champion.
The thrilling semi-final between the hosts and Nigeria broke the attendance record for a single match. And despite the tournament expanding to 12 teams with four debutants, it has never been so competitive.
Now, the big question is, what comes next? How can the continent build on the tournament’s success to improve? After all, there is a lot that needs to improve.
Reports are coming out that the Super Falcons are again protesting a lack of pay. Most teams are still not professional, and the competition has not gotten the attention it deserves, both within the continent and abroad.
But more than anything, the WAFCON has shown that Africa is full of talent, and that talent needs a platform. That platform must start with every domestic league filming and broadcasting all matches.
Opportunities are far and few between
Every WAFCON has the same story. Players hardly known outside their country and domestic leagues come to the tournament. They impress, even if it is just in the group stage, and within weeks of the competition, have moved abroad to bigger and better things.
This tournament could see that progression on levels never seen before because of the number of teams seemingly coming out of the blue. There are four debutants at this year’s WAFCON. Plus, another three teams that have not participated in the competition for over ten years—effectively bringing new squads to the tournament.Embed from Getty Images
For most of these players, this is their first-ever chance to be seen live in person or on TV. So, if we constantly see players receiving these opportunities and making the most of them, why aren’t we doing more to provide those players with more chances?
The phenomenon is not exclusive to the WAFCON either because of its prestige. We saw a similar phenomenon at November’s inaugural CAF Women’s Champions League. Probably the smallest team to attend was Vihiga Queens, a rural club from Western Kenya.
They came into the tournament having won the East African zonal qualifier, having existed for only seven years. They played bravely against some of Africa’s best, pulling off the surprise of the tournament by beating AS FAR Rabat of Morocco (who supply the bulk of its players to the national team).
The Vihiga Queens ultimately exited in the group stage of the competition. But within six months of the tournament, five players from the team had moved abroad to clubs in Spain, France, Turkey and South Korea.
African players need screen time
There is one primary action that can rapidly improve the progression of African football players: making every match accessible to watch online. Not only would this increase viewership, but it would also bring in more money while improving the ability and safety of players across the continent.
Very few countries on the continent regularly broadcast their matches. Even Morocco doesn’t regularly air games despite the country being held up as the gold standard for developing club football with its two professional leagues. Many argue that the reason behind this is that there is little to no interest. But as the 2022 WAFCON has shown, there clearly is an audience. Build it and they will come.Embed from Getty Images
This isn’t to say that there will be high viewership and broadcast revenue immediately. It is a long and hard road to broadcasters actually paying to show women’s football live and regularly. But it must start somewhere. That somewhere must be the live streaming of all games.
The model to look at for success is in England. For years, WSL games aired almost exclusively on The FA Player. It was really poor quality, and only from one camera, often without a commentator. But the consistent provision of live footage of games eventually paid dividends.Embed from Getty Images
Within a couple of years, English women’s football went from having all the games live on The FA Player to securing the most lucrative TV deal in women’s club football history. This provision of live games is all the more important in Africa where progression for players means being seen by an international audience in order to secure a move abroad.
Women’s football in Africa has come a long way and has much further to come if it wants to catch up with what is happening across the Mediterranean and Atlantic. But the first step to closing that gap is to do what few countries in Europe have been able to do, provide consistent, live coverage of local football.