By Ian Asabo
Football is a man’s game. Women should sit and enjoy it being played on pitch. These are some of the gender biases that have strengthened the bond among four former female footballers in Uganda.
Bridget Nabisaalu, Mercy Nabulobi, Collines Ahumuza and Ruth Akao – all alumnae of Uganda Christian University (UCU) – have formed an organization to further the access and acceptance of women into football.
The Women in Football Uganda (WIFU), an organization birthed in November 2021, has so far registered 15 girls, who are being indoctrinated into embracing football as a sport for everyone.
Nabisaalu said the girls who early registered are from teams in Mukono. However, she said, there are plans to expand the registration to cover the whole country.
“WIFU partners with the girls’ teams to coach them,” Nabisaalu added. The program targets girls below 17 years.
The organization’s role is not only limited to coaching the girls on how to play football, but also teaching them other life skills that can help them off the pitch.
“Many coaches teach girls how to play football, and that is all,” Nabisaalu says, adding: “Other aspects of life are not taught, which, I think, is a detriment to an athlete’s development.”
Nabisaalu and her compatriots have in the past helped UCU’s team win prestigious trophies at the national level.
Nabisaalu played for the UCU Lady Cardinals for some time, before becoming an assistant coach of the same team. Ahumuza is a trainee coach for UCU Lady Cardinals. Akao retired and is the current coach for Muyenga Soccer Academy in Kampala.
“We are working with girls in different age groups, which allows us to be flexible in our training,” Nabisaalu said, noting that they give the trainees basics of personal hygiene as well as discipline to ensure they become “complete footballers and exemplary sportswomen.”
In addition to the one-hour session on pitch with female coaches, the mentees are also taken through issues concerning menstrual hygiene, discipline, mental health, public speaking and financial literacy.
Last year, since schools were still in a lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the programs would run every Wednesday, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. However, this year, since schools have now opened, the sessions are held every Saturday, same time. The venue for the sessions is the grounds for Champions United FC in Kauga, Mukono.
It is not just the stigma against the female footballers that the mentors face as a challenge. The founders of the organization say some coaches at academies are reluctant to let their players participate in the mentorship program, thinking that they may be snatched by other teams.
Financial constraints also have been a challenge as some of the necessary equipment needed for the training is hard to come by.
Lady Cardinals head coach Christian Magoba praised the quartet for their commitment to the mentorship project, saying that he is confident the program will have a positive impact in the community.
“I am proud of what these ladies are doing both on and off the pitch. It takes a lot of commitment to undertake an initiative like this,” he said.