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In African women’s football, homophobia still poses a barrier | Features | NEWSRUX

Nigeria’s hegemonic decades-long dominance over Africa’s girls’s soccer scene has lengthy masked a darkish secret: Overtly gay gamers will not be allowed.

The Tremendous Falcons are Africa’s most affluent nationwide staff, however this discriminatory perspective has solid a shadow over their success and led to the ostracisation of gifted footballers over time.

In 2014, the Nigerian parliament handed a invoice into regulation prohibiting same-sex unions and making them punishable by as a lot as 14 years in jail.

Whereas homosexuality was already unlawful earlier than that, sports activities insiders say the edict was a backdrop for a concerted marketing campaign in opposition to queer individuals in soccer.

‘As a result of they had been lesbians’

In a 2011 interview revealed by the native Day by day Solar newspaper, former Nigeria Soccer Federation (NFF) technical assistant James Peters mentioned he had overseen the removing of gamers from the ladies’s nationwide staff “as a result of they had been lesbians”.

Two years later, feedback made by Dilichukwu Onyedinma, then chairperson of the Nigeria Girls’s Soccer League (NWFL) and member of the NFF, drew the eye of world soccer governing physique FIFA. In response to her categorical directive for the sacking and disqualification of “any participant that we discover is related to it [lesbianism]”, FIFA wrote to the NFF demanding clarification and reiterating its stance in opposition to discrimination of every kind.

By advantage of its affiliation with FIFA and its implicit settlement to abide by the physique’s guidelines, the NFF is certified for grants and monetary help from the Zurich-based physique, and so it was within the curiosity of the nation’s prime soccer brass to, on the very least, preserve their discriminatory views in verify.

That didn’t cease Seyi Akinwunmi, vp of the NFF, from laying the blame for the Tremendous Falcons’ failure to qualify for the ladies’s soccer occasion of the 2016 Olympic Video games on the alleged presence of homosexual gamers throughout the squad.

“Lesbianism kills groups,” he claimed. A number of months later, Nigeria claimed their ninth African crown.

“We [gay players] have determined to maintain working onerous and hopefully discover golf equipment in Europe, as a result of that’s the solely protected place to be your self,” one participant within the nation’s prime flight instructed Al Jazeera anonymously.

“There’s a WhatsApp group the place all of us discuss and share data. My dad and mom are conscious and unbothered that I’m a lesbian however they’re all the time apprehensive about my security in Nigeria. Every time the staff wins, it’s an important efficiency however once we lose, a few of these coaches are fast responsible it on ‘soiled lesbians’ and ‘evil gamers’.”

Continental impediment

Nigeria isn’t the one nation in Africa with these attitudes towards girls in sports activities. South African Soccer Affiliation (SAFA) vice-president Ria Ledwaba surprised many again in 2005 when she lashed out on the nation’s nationwide girls’s facet, Banyana Banyana, saying the gamers “must discover ways to be girls”.

That she was the chairperson of SAFA’s girls’s committee on the time made the assertion much more impolitic. As an alternative of looking for to dismantle the excessive pay disparity between men and women on the nationwide staff stage – which President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed this week after the staff gained its maiden Girls’s African Cup of Nations (WAFCON) title in Morocco – she was suggesting Banyana Banyana gamers wanted to attend etiquette lessons.

In 2008, South African footballer and queer activist Eudy Simelane was gang-raped and stabbed a number of instances, resulting in her loss of life.

Lesbians in Zimbabwe are being subjected to “corrective rape” and extreme violence by males attempting to “remedy” them of their sexual orientation, based on human rights group ActionAid.

In Ghana, lesbian footballers reside in concern. Homosexual intercourse is already punishable within the West African nation with a jail time period of three years. A invoice proposed in 2021 seeks to extend jail phrases to as much as a decade and power some to bear “conversion remedy”, the place makes an attempt are made to alter individuals’s sexuality.

A scapegoat

In 2004, aged simply 18, Cynthia Uwak made her worldwide debut for Nigeria; her efficiency immediately introduced her as a star to be careful for.

The attacker was a key a part of the Tremendous Falcons’ runs on the 2004 and 2006 WAFCON and was adjudged Africa’s greatest participant by the Confederation of African Soccer (CAF) in 2006 and 2007. There was an unmistakable sense amongst pundits, business insiders and followers that this was a participant of really historic potential.

Nonetheless, as she turns 36 this July, she has gone near 12 years since her final look for Nigeria.

After lacking the 2010 WAFCON because of an harm, she was surprisingly dropped from the Tremendous Falcons’ squad to the World Cup the next 12 months. Other than unsuccessful calls by members of the general public to recall her to the nationwide staff in 2016, Uwak has merely vanished from the general public eye.

In an interview with Al Jazeera, she mentioned her exclusion from the nationwide staff was on account of her sexual desire. “Among the greatest gamers had been unnoticed of the squad as a result of they had been practising lesbians,” she confirmed.“It was a very long time in the past, however it’s one thing I nonetheless bear in mind as a result of that was why I finished taking part in within the nationwide staff.”

Former worldwide Eucharia Uche, who was the Nigeria coach from January 2009 to October 2011, made headlines when she mentioned homosexuality was a “soiled problem” whereas chatting with the New York Occasions on the eve of the 2011 World Cup.

Whereas Uche claimed she didn’t witness overt lesbian expression, she however made it her enterprise to handle “robust rumours” to that impact by way of recourse to “divine intervention”.

Uwak mentioned she was surprised by Uche’s remarks, calling them hypocritical, and claimed Uche was herself a closeted gay throughout her taking part in days.

“[Uche’s comments] really swept me off my toes,” the previous Olympique Lyon ahead mentioned. “Like, whoa! These are the individuals you seemed as much as and so they had been practising this identical factor they condemned you about. They even dropped you. That’s like attempting to take meals out of any person’s mouth. That was what Uche Eucharia did.”

Uwak additionally mentioned she was actively persecuted for her sexual identification.

“I by no means hid my identification,” Uwak mentioned. “I needed to stand my floor despite the fact that these individuals did that to me at a young age. They kicked me out, tried to make me a scapegoat.”

‘Not a problem’

Talking to Al Jazeera 11 years on, Peters says he regrets his prior stance, one which was born out of a “Christian, cultural and efficiency standpoint”. Whereas his statements made him a pariah internationally and culminated in him dropping his place of privilege throughout the construction of Nigerian soccer, he insists he arrived at his change of coronary heart by way of re-education and a reappraisal of the world.

“I don’t share that time [of view] any longer,” he mentioned. “ The world is a unique place and we simply must reside with it, work with it, and accommodate it. It’s now not a problem.”

Uche, when contacted for a response to Uwak’s feedback, declined to remark by insisting she “doesn’t wish to be part of points”. On his half, Akinwunmi claimed that his phrases had been taken out of their meant context.

For Uwak, there’s a lingering scepticism that there’ll ever be a real change of perspective towards lesbians in Africa, each generally and in soccer particularly.

“It’s going to by no means occur in Africa as a result of, all the pieces, they time period it witchcraft,” she mentioned. “They wish to pray and ship a homosexual particular person, or they like you conceal your sexuality. It could solely change if individuals preserve pushing.

“Don’t let society make you, and don’t reside another person’s life.”

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