Women’s World Cup: Jamaica, Nigeria and South Africa impress on the pitch – and fight for respect off it

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Nigeria has emerged as a strong and unbeaten team from Group B in the 2023 World Cup, with striker Asisat Oshoala leading the charge. However, many fans, pundits, and journalists are left wondering what these teams could accomplish if their federations fully supported them. The group stage of this tournament has been particularly thrilling, as it has witnessed some major upsets in women’s football history. Powerhouses Germany, Canada, and Brazil, all ranked in the top 10 by FIFA, have been eliminated in the group stage. Out of the 16 teams in the knockout stage, six are ranked outside the top 20. This includes Jamaica, the first Caribbean side to reach the World Cup knockout stage since Cuba in 1938, as well as South Africa and Nigeria, two of the three African teams in the last 16. It is unprecedented to see this many African teams advance in a World Cup, whether it be the men’s or women’s tournament.

These African teams have truly earned their spots in the knockout stage through their impressive performances. They have exhibited thrilling attacking football, astute defensive tactics, and a never-give-in attitude that has led to late goals and victories. Former New Zealand international and current FIFA administrator Rebecca Smith describes the achievements of these teams as amazing, as they have not only advanced from their groups but have done so in style, showing their ability to compete with some of the world’s best teams. Jamaica, for example, has not conceded a single goal in the tournament, which is a remarkable feat. Similarly, South Africa has defied expectations by defeating Italy with a stoppage-time winner after losing a two-goal advantage. Nigeria, with a comeback 3-2 victory against hosts Australia, has also shown its resilience.

However, the successes of these teams on the field are accompanied by greater challenges off the field. Jamaica, for instance, has faced managerial changes, concerns over facilities, and preparations. The players even sought independent funding to ensure professional preparation for their matches. Nigeria, on the other hand, has long-standing issues with bonuses and payments from the Nigerian Football Federation. At the 2022 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations, they threatened to boycott the third-place play-off after the federation withheld their payments. Similar problems arose at the World Cup, with the federation refusing to pay bonuses after FIFA announced monetary rewards for participation in the group stages. Financial disputes and inadequate support from national associations are not limited to these teams but are prevalent throughout women’s football, as seen in England’s disagreement with their Football Association.

These challenges highlight the need for greater support and recognition for women’s football worldwide. South Africa, aiming to host the 2027 World Cup, faced a player boycott due to dissatisfaction with playing conditions. Such issues demonstrate how women’s football is often treated with less respect and financial backing than its male counterpart. Rebecca Smith argues that the funding and support of national teams should not solely depend on their success, but should be provided regardless. The recent victories achieved by these teams may serve as a wake-up call to their federations, pushing them to invest more in women’s football and provide equal support to their female players. It is unfair to continue treating women’s football as a secondary priority, and the successes of these teams should serve as a catalyst for change. By properly funding and supporting their national teams, these federations can create a positive environment that empowers and uplifts the women representing the country on the international stage.

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