Former Green Eagles’ winger, now a sports scientist, Adegoke Adelabu, is sad over the ‘failure’ of those managing the Nigeria Women Football League (NWFL) to secure a lead sponsor for the game, despite its rising profile globally.
“I am not surprised at the lack of sponsorship for our women football league because it is only a well packaged league that will attract sponsors,” Adelabu told The Guardian.
In his days as Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung challenged the NFF’s Committee on women football to rebrand ‘its products’ so that the league can have sponsors, partners, and investors.
He said: “The days when government will be the sole financier of sports are over. Therefore, the league managers must think outside the box, rebrand, and influence investors and sponsors because anything besides this will lead to lack of support and there will be dwindling fortunes in women’s football.”
That was in 2018 before Sunday Dare was brought in to replace Dalung by ex-President, Muhammadu Buhari.
In the past, players from Cameroun, Ghana, Senegal, DR Congo, and Equatorial Guinea featured for various clubs in Nigeria, but today many of them have since left because the League has been running without any sponsor.
Since soft drink giant, Pepsi, pulled out of the sponsorship of Nigeria women football league in 2002, it had been the same message of no sponsor from one board to another.
From the days of Princess Bola Jegede to Alhaja Ayo Omidiran, Dilichukwu Onyedinma and the immediate past board led by Aisha Falode, the nation’s women football league was without any lead sponsor.
It was the same old story all through the administration of former NFF President, Amaju Pinnick.
To a large extent, the ‘no sponsorship’ for the women league reduced the dominance of the Super Falcons, the Falconets and Flamingoes in African continent under the Pinnick-led NFF board, with the Falcons becoming a laughingstock, losing to relatively unknown teams in Africa.
A new board has taken over the NWFL, with Nkechi Obi as the head.
Obi, a sports marketer, started by launching a platform tagged: ‘Women’s Football Rising,’ which according to her, will tackle developmental problems affecting the women league in Nigeria.
The platform, Obi said, was introduced by her team at the 2023 Women’s World Cup cohosted by Australia and New Zealand and is aimed at tracking the development and boosting the business and commercial value of the local game.
However, Adelabu said he does not foresee any major change in the game unless some drastic moves are made. “Everything we do in sport has to be consistent with our national objectives for sport development,” he told The Guardian.
“A well packaged program will attract sponsors who are ready to identify with the organisational structure and aspirations of the federation.
“The important issue here is, has the Nigerian women league body successfully reviewed its activities and challenges during the last season and what are the improvement they prepare to bring into the organisation of the game soon?
Adelabu continues: “The issues of officiating and crowd inflow should be investigated. People want to enjoy what they pay for and not to give the games to the highest bidder.
“When sponsors don’t have value for their money, they are bound to decline sponsorship. When they perceive unseriousness in the goals of the federation they will pocket their funds for important things.
“Let us take a cursory look at the time we started female football and now. Where are the girls who started it? Are they part of the structure today? What about those who sustained injuries among them? There is a way that football training or physical activities affect the menstrual cycle of a woman. Have we ever delved into such health aspect of their training to assist our girls? What about infertility and sport training?
“We cannot just organise our women to engage in a game in an environment that is anti-progress. Proper homework must be done by the federation if they want corporate organisation to take interest in what they are doing,” he stated.
Adelabu, a former EKO United FC manager, said that the various women national teams need well trained coaches, who understand the workings and principles of human development with respect to sport participation and management.
“We have to ensure that our women football players are gainfully employed, students or businesspeople so that in case of any eventuality they will have something to fall back to with assistance of the federation from the proceeds of the league. We cannot afford to handle the women the way we do with the men.
“This is one of the points leaderships of the NWFL have to present for sponsorship of the league. We need to know the gains of the previous sponsorship as a steppingstone to what we desire to achieve in the future. Look at women league in the South Africa. It continues to attract sponsorships from various companies even though the Banyana Banyana were not in the same class with our Super Falcons. If the South African Women League can get sponsors, Nigeria with her football pedigree on the continent and the world should be able to secure a sponsorship deal with an organisation so that Nigerian female football will attract foreign players, spectatorship, and television rights like what is obtainable in other well organised leagues,” Adelabu stated.
The 2023 NWFL will begin in October with 16 teams competing, compared to 14 in the past.