Headline: Africa’s football war on women
Location: Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
Article Synopsis: The article is about the victimisation of women in African football because of superstitious beliefs. Football clubs in Africa believe in the use of charms to enhance their chances of winning and they do not want women near them when going to a match. Recently, a leading club in Zimbabwe—Dynamos– fired a woman physiotherapist because fans and executives believed charms were not working due to her presence on the technical bench. As we approach the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, more and more women could find themselves sidelined from duties that require them to be on the turf.
Opening Paragraph: If you intend to bring a female technical team member to the 2010 soccer World Cup to be held on African soil, you had better think twice.
Keywords: FIFA, Africa, football, Dynamos, Harare, Zimbabwe, women, physiotherapist, Abigail Munikwa, African Champions League, 2010 World Cup, South Africa, superstition, charms, juju, Swaziland, artificial turf, marshals, players, technical bench.
Related Media: The Herald
By Limukani Ncube
If you intend to bring a female technical team member to the 2010 Soccer World Cup to be held on African soil, you may need to think twice. As the adage goes, forewarned is forearmed. African superstitions do not go hand and glove with women, particularly if they are to enter the field of play ahead of kick off. In most parts of Africa, people believe that ritual sacrifice will help them excel in any trade, position or profession. Many Africans believe that wealth and success cannot be achieved without some form of ritual sacrifice.
In these communities prosperity is always associated with the occult, and football has not been spared from this thinking. Many African football teams use charms for their matches, in spite of the fact that no African team has ever won the World Cup. FIFA came face to face with the reality of such beliefs when an artificial turf the association funded in the Southern African country of Swaziland was destroyed when magic charms were buried underneath it by a superstitious football club in 2008. In numerous African Cup of Nations tournaments, there have been reports of juju men masquerading as team marshals clashing in the corridors, trying to beat each other to spray charms on the pitch.
While such sentiments have for a long time been dismissed as mere pub talk, the continent’s war on women has been taken to the football field, it would appear, as superstition takes its place in the sports arena. Women football fans in Zimbabwe were left shell shocked when a section of supporters of the most followed team and one of the best in the continent—Dynamos—demanded that a female physiotherapist be fired.
A 32-year-old professional physiotherapist, Abigail Munikwa was made the sacrificial lamb of Zimbabwe top club’s poor run in league matches when she was forced to temporarily quit her post. A meeting between the club’s leadership and representatives of fans in Harare resolved that Munikwa’s services be terminated because her presence on the technical bench had a direct bearing on loss of form.
Dynamos, who reached the final of the African Champions League in 1998 and the mini league phase in 1999 and 2008, are, according to the country’s leading daily—The Herald— a club built on a foundation of superstition. A section of club fans believed the woman’s presence on the bench was affecting the club’s magical powers. It is believed that because women go through menstruation, they have supernatural powers to clean off any venom from charms.
This was despite the fact that there are two other teams in the Zimbabwe Premiership with women physiotherapists, champions Monomotapa and Lengthens. Some die-hard traditionalists have argued that the said teams are owned by individuals who might have a different take on superstition.
“Apparently there was a meeting between the supporters and the chairman and I was told it was agreed that I was responsible for the team’s poor run of form,” said woman physiotherapist, Munikwa, in an interview with a Zimbabwean publication. In addition, some fans, as the debate on the woman official dragged on, brought a traditional Malawi nyau dancer at half-time during a league match as a way of exorcising ghosts they claimed were haunting their team.
The move by the club triggered protests from groups opposed to gender discrimination and club chairman Partson Moyo was forced to back down saying the woman was not fired, but there had been a communication breakdown. He did acknowledge that his leadership had been under pressure from a hard-line section of fans who wanted Munikwa relieved of her duties because they believed her presence on the bench was interfering with their superstitious beliefs.
“Our official position as the Dynamos leadership is that Abigail has not been fired, but was a victim of a breakdown in communication where she allegedly took the words of a member of the technical department as the official position of the club and its executive,” said Moyo. He went on to say that 11 members of the medical team worked on a rotational basis and the return of Killian Kadye to the bench, after the outcry against the woman, should not be read as her dismissal. He added that his club was opposed to gender discrimination.
“I publicly denounced the superstitious beliefs and defended Abigail against the allegations that we were losing because she was sitting on our bench and, even today, I still stand by that. I believe that since 1963, when Dynamos was formed, we were the first executive to appoint a woman to sit on our bench and we expected all the groups that are now crying foul to stand up and applaud our landmark decision,” the chairman of the club said.
But superstition runs deep. Ruth Banda, he wife of Zimbabwean national team player, Esrom Nyandoro, who plays for Sundowns in South Africa, admitted that she does not touch the kit of her husband when she is menstruating. Even some female journalists have had a torrid time trying to interview players and coaches on the turf as they are often pushed away by team marshals who are superstitious.
This is not just related to soccer. It is believed by many that African men have to abstain from contact with women when faced with challenges. When going to war, as history books have recorded, soldiers were separated from women, and even armed robbers in South Africa have been quoted in the media as saying that they abstain from sex ahead of a big heist. That is in contrast to beliefs in some European countries where engaging in sex with women has been viewed as a motivational factor. The English soccer team had wives and girlfriends join them during the 2006 soccer World Cup finals in Germany, although new manager Fabio Capello believes women distract players from the job at hand and has reservations about them making the trip to South Africa.
In September 2009 Gary Kirsten encouraged his Indian cricket players to engage in sex ahead of The Champions Trophy. In secret documents leaked to the Hindustan Times, Kirsten said an active sex life could translate into good results on the field of play. The chapter concerned is headed: “Does sex increase performance?” and the answer is straight to the point. “Yes, it does, so go ahead and indulge.” His argument is that sex increases testosterone levels, which causes an increase in strength, energy, aggression and competitiveness.
“Conversely, not having sex for a few months causes a significant drop in testosterone level in both males and females with the corresponding passivity and decrease in aggression,” he added. Nonetheless, to an African footballer and official, indulging in sex ahead of a match is viewed in the same light as match fixing.