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WAFCON: Bigger tournament, more cash for African footballers

July 8, 2022

Women’s football in Africa is on the rise with bigger prize money on offer at the continental championship. This comes as more countries see women’s football as an opportunity to participate on the international stage.

South African footballer Jermaine Seoposenwe shooting at goal against Nigeria.
South Africa's Jermaine Seoposenwe scores against Nigeria Image: Tobi Adepoju/Shengolpixs/IMAGO

Jermaine Seoposenwe's opening goal against Nigeria in Rabat marked the South African's return to the national team after an absence of two years.

The quality of the goal, sumptuously assisted by Noxolo Cesane, not only thrilled the spectators, but it also demonstrated how much the African women's game has improved in recent years.

South Africa's opening day 2-1 win over Nigeria at the 2022 Women's Africa Cup of Nations (WAFCON) underlined this trend. The landscape is changing and a few teams are catching up to the old guard.

The quality of football on offer, the number of debutant teams in an expanded 12-country tournament and the fresh strategies employed by national teams show that football is moving in the right direction in many countries.

This year, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) has boosted prize money by 150 percent. The winner of this year's title will receive $500,000 (€491,000), $300,000 more than Nigeria received when they won in Accra in 2018. 

The South African Football Association (SAFA) has also promised the Banyana Banyana players a tidy sum of 400,000 Rand (€23,388) each if they win the title. According to the SAFA, this is the highest amount in bonuses ever paid to any of its national teams, men or women. 

A graphic showing that the WAFCON prize money of $500,000 still trails the Women's Euros pool of $2 million.
A 150% prize money increase by CAF still lags behind other tournaments

"The growth is quite evident on the continent," Chuka Onwumechili, communication professor at Howard University in Washington DC, told DW.

"However, there is a challenge, when you look at that growth in terms of the global level," added the professor, who counts African football among his areas of research. "I think the rest of the world has developed faster than Africa when it comes to the women's game."

New women's football strategy

In 2020, CAF launched a five-pronged strategy to grow women's football on the continent. This was the first attempt at bringing structure to the game beyond the biennial WAFCON (the 2020 edition of the tournament was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic) and qualifiers for major tournaments. That included the launch of the Women's Champions League in 2021.

The rest of the policy includes promotion, training and ensuring more women get more opportunities in football. There's already been a success story, with Salima Mukansanga becoming the first woman referee at a men's AFCON, leading to her nomination for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

The Moroccan women's football team celebrate a goal together.
Morocco have been investing in women's footballImage: Tobi Adepoju/Shengolpixs/IMAGO

However, CAF's strategy has been criticized for failing to set numerical goals. It has, for example, declined to say how many girls that it wants to bring into the sport. This is where individual associations like South Africa and Morocco have done better. SAFA has announced that more than 400,000 women and girls are now playing football through its digital platform, MySAFA. It has also launched a professional league for women.

Morocco's four-year strategy aims to bring 90,000 girls into football by 2024 while also launching a national U-17 league. Apart from hosting the WAFCON, Morocco is also set to host the Champions League this year.

Quicker path to the World Cup?

The four semifinalists at this year's WAFCON will earn automatic qualification for the 2023 FIFA World Cup, with two others going into inter-continental playoffs. For many countries that have not been able to thrive in the men's game, women's football could be a way to get onto the international stage.

The Burkina Faso women's football team pose for a photograph.
Debutants Burkina Faso are one of four teams participating for the first timeImage: Tobi Adepoju/Shengolpixs/IMAGO

"There is a lot of hope that women's football teams have a higher chance of qualifying for the World Cup than the men's teams. So this is driving investments to build women's national teams in East Africa," said Agnes Amondi, who writes about women's football for the Africa New Media Group.

"It is a good strategy and we will see in a decade if it is a right choice," said Onwumechili.

CAF's decision to hold regional qualifying matches also meant that West African powerhouses Ghana, Cote d'Ivoire and Mali, as well as two-time champions Equatorial Guinea, failed to qualify for WAFCON. They gave way to four new participants in Togo, Burundi, Botswana and Burkina Faso.

With the bottom teams set to receive $100,000 in participation fees, it's hoped this will help increase investment in women's football development in these countries.

Already for Botswana, whose men had only ever qualified for one AFCON and lost all three games, it was an important milestone when the Mares defeated Burundi 4-2 in their opening Group C game. Local newspaper "Mmegi" praised their performance and called it "a shining moment" for Botswanan sport.

These are all signs that women's football is enjoying its best period in Africa so far, and more beautiful goals like Seopesenwe's can only serve to increase interest among African football fans.

Edited by: Chuck Penfold and Janek Speight