Football, females and fun. These three words are the incarnation of a new British Council project involving some of Senegal’s top female football players.
From 27-29 January, 40 women from around the country gathered at the main sports centre in Thies, some 70km outside Dakar, to partake in the first part of a two year partnership between the British Council Senegal and Ladies’ Turn, a local Senegalese NGO focused on promote girls’ football. Together the two organizations are committed to developing technical and life skills, confidence and self-esteem of young female players in the country.
“The future of football is with our women,” said Mame Moussa Cisse, representative of the Ministry of Sport and the coach of the national women’s football team during the opening ceremony. “Where there are women, there is life. Where there are women, there is humour. As a country, we haven’t taken charge of women’s football and it’s time to change that. This starts with you, but it doesn’t end with you. You are merely conduit and we are here to accompany you so you can do your job and women’s football becomes a reality in this country.”
The 40 women, between the ages of 23 and 30, come from a variety of football backgrounds and were trained over the course of three days on skills ranging from leadership and management to football drills, strategies and community engagement.
“Already I feel like I’ve learned a ton,” says Ndeye Meissa Diaw, a 23 year old St Louisian football goalie for the national team on the first day. “Respect, for yourself and then for others – this is the first thing to know in sport.”
There are some 400 women in Senegal who are actively involved in football and just over half that participate at the national level. The British Council/ Ladies’ Turn partnership is the first time these two organisations have joined forces and the first time the British Council Senegal has focused on women’s training in particular.
“Women are generally not accepted to play in Senegal, because there are many cultural blocks,” explains Bassouare Diaby, secretary general of Ladies’ Turn, who also coached the female national team for 11 years. “Normally football in this country is reserved for men only. But now this is slowly changing, even though it is still seen as a new idea here.”
After the first weekend in Thies, the players returned home where they are then expected to cascade their newfound skills and knowledge within their local communities. This helps ensure the numbers touched by this project far exceeds the 40 women who directly partook in the training.
“If we all help train ten people we will create a value chain so that we’re all learning how to live a healthy life,” explains Rahmatoulaye Fall, Project Manager for the British Council. “(We) need to support new ways of thinking, acting and developing new skills, which is how we can help build this country. We play football, we learn football, but we also build our skills for life.”
The Premier Skills programme is a Barclays Premier League initiated project that has been working with the British Council across several countries in Africa, including Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Sudan, Malawi, Kenya, Botswana and Uganda. Since 2009, Premier Skills has worked with more than 60 community trainers, 20 referees and more than 5,000 players across Senegal.