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Tilted playground: Cynthia Mumbo and World Cup winner Brandi Chastain discuss women in sports

SPORTS By Waweru Titus | June 15th 2020
Fans hold a women's rights and equal pay sign up during the USA Victory Tour match between the United States of America and the Republic of Ireland on August 3, 2019. [Photo: Getty Images]

It’s not rocket science to know that women are disadvantaged when it comes to the sports industry unless you have been living under a rock. It is a man’s world!

Women athletes worldwide are not highlighted unless they win big. Some people are in the school of thought that says women’s bodies aren’t built for sports, or that they’re not so much into sports anyway.

But what they need to understand is that women need to work especially hard to come up in sports or even become moderately famous for their talent.

Sport is a platform that both reinforces and challenges gender stereotypes and it is often seen to privilege men over women.

While women have made notable progress in leadership in business and civil society, not enough has changed in the sports industry with still far fewer women than men in senior decision-making positions in sports management.

Surveys show that a professional football career for women is hard to sustain in the face of low pay, a lack of contractual support, and commitments away from the pitch.

According to research, football/soccer is one of the most popular female sports, with about 30 million girls and women playing it worldwide but around the world, girls and women face unique challenges to participating in the sport.

GameYetu attended a webinar organised by World Learning and the Digital Communication Network (DCN) to try and understand issues women go through in sports and what can be done to overcome these challenges for a better future.

Brandi Chastain: 2 time FIFA Women’s World Cup champion, 2-time Olympic gold medalist/US

Brandi Chastain an American retired soccer player, two-time FIFA Women's World Cup champion and a sports broadcaster admits it was very challenging at the beginning to go into a male-dominated field.

“It was unusual for people to see me play soccer as a young girl. It was even more surprising because I also participated in American football, track and field events, baseball, and skateboarding. Lucky for me... I had two supportive parents and a community that understood that I had an aptitude for the game of football,” says Chastain.

The world Cup winner says change is inevitable and all stakeholders must join hands and invest resources at the grassroots level to lift women and give them equal opportunities at the biggest stages in world sports.

“I mean listen, when I grew up soccer was a foreign sport, right? It was the people who migrated to the United States [who played it] traditionally and came from cultures that embraced football and so when I fell in love with it, I was the odd one out. So I think right now what we're trying to say is that that shouldn't be happening. It should be the norm for everyone and the way to start is empowering the younger generation.

“I started a program in my community called BAWSI Girls Women's Sports initiative and we help and serve underprivileged girls in our community. The point of it is not to teach football...it's not to teach a specific sport, but it's to encourage health and wellness in the community. Through studies on our program, 67 per cent of girls like and love exercise. They want to join in and always feel important when they're on a certain team,” Chastain explains.

“We established that 87 per cent want to learn about leadership and get into decision-making positions if given an opportunity. Another 71 per cent learnt that setting goals for themselves and then accomplishing those goals gives them confidence. It's these grassroots organisations that will help strengthen communities across the globe,” she concludes.

It is one of the most iconic moments in sports history. Brandi Chastain netted the game-winning goal in the fifth round of penalty kicks at 1999 Women's World Cup Final. [Photo: Courtesy]

Dalal Alrowaished: Physiotherapist, Kuwait Women Football National Team/Kuwait

Dalal AlRowaished, a Certified Athletic Trainer at Kuwait Football Association, says the society in her country is starting to accept women participating in sports because more stakeholders have taken time to create the necessary awareness.

“I feel like the people in charge of it right now are bringing more awareness to football and futsal than in the past. I used to play soccer growing up and it wasn't very accepted at the time. We did not have a national team, club teams, or anywhere to play. We had to pay for fields and just play for fun because we were not taken seriously. I think it just became serious two years ago,” she says.

AlRowaished reveals she decided to take an opportunity and study athletic training. Under the supervision of a physical therapist, she can now treat patients through rehabilitation exercise, gait, and balance training.

“I first I wanted to play since I was a child, but we didn't have an opportunity. So for me, I picked working with injuries and going to study athletic training and bring that to Kuwait. When I used to play it was more if you do get hurt then that's the end of your career, that's the end of your life. I took a different opportunity and thought I should go study something else and bring it to Kuwait from that aspect of working to bring awareness to injuries.

“Now, I'm trying to bring awareness in the sense that if a girl injured because they can still participate in the sport,” AlRowaished points out.

Dalal Alrowaished is a Certified Athletic Trainer at Kuwait Football Association.

Cynthia Mumbo: Founder & CEO, Sports Connect Africa/Kenya

Cynthia Mumbo from Kenya, the Founder & CEO, Sports Connect Africa says there is usually a preconceived notion that leadership positions should be held by the older generation and that needs to change.

Sports Connect Africa is a company that focuses on delivering value to sports stakeholders through marketing, events management, and player development.

While working for organisations like the Kenya Basketball Federation, FIBA, and NBA Africa, Mumbo combined her flair for business and sports to set up the sports company.

“Let me just say that I was one of the first women in leadership positions and the youngest (25) woman at that time. Some people believe that leadership positions are left to guys aged 50 and over generally and it was a very interesting experience, but it taught me so much. So I learned how to work and within that framework, we did bring in so many different changes in Kenya for instance.”

Mumbo states that her background in marketing and her experiences helped her in forming long term partnerships.

She, however, faces many challenges as a young woman and sometimes has to remind people she is qualified and capable of executing her duties efficiently and effectively.

“My background is marketing so it helped me in creating long time partnerships with local companies to support the beautiful game. At the 2011 All-Africa Games, I remember my experience in Maputo (Mozambique) was quite fascinating. I walked into a meeting for team managers and they thought I was a player. When I explained my job and what I do you can you imagine the look on everyone's faces,” Mumbo explains.

She says her work is to empower the young people so that they can excel in Kenya and make the country a big sporting destination instead of travelling to other countries outside East Africa.

“We want to empower young people so that they build themselves. If you ask any African young sportsman/woman where he/she wants to be in the next 5-10 years... the answer is always Europe. My question has always been who's going to do that at home? And that's what you know pushes me that I want to be able to create solutions that are local that we can be able to empower Africans at the local level,” Mumbo states.

“We're currently working with a good friend of mine, a former CAF CEO to set up a sports business school for Africa because we realise that there's so much potential and so much opportunity. We want to be able to open up these spaces for people to collaborate for people to partner with each other and that's the direction that I would like to take,” Mumbo concludes.

Cynthia Mumbo is a modern world-class lady from Kenya who believes that a winner is the chef who takes the same ingredients as everyone else and produces the best results. She says, “Without passion, you cannot achieve your dreams.” [Photo: Courtesy]

Other speakers included:

 Andrea Montalbano, the author of Soccer Sisters, a former player at Harvard University/US

 Noor Dajani: CrossFit Trainer/Jordan

 Maria Suchkova: Head of Women Football Department, Russian Football Union, UEFA Grow Mentor/Russia

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