FROM DUSTY PITCHES TO THE OLYMPICS , THE STORY OF ZAMBIA’S COPPER QUEENS
FROM DUSTY PITCHES TO THE OLYMPICS , THE STORY OF ZAMBIA’S COPPER QUEENS
By MICHAEL MIYOBA ESPITE the challenges faced by a lot of Zambian female footballers who play their local league games in dusty pitches found in various shanty compounds across the country, the Zambia national women’s team defined all odds and beat the best to make history and qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. Nicknamed …
By MICHAEL MIYOBA
ESPITE the challenges faced by a lot of Zambian female footballers who play their local league games in dusty pitches found in various shanty compounds across the country, the Zambia national women’s team defined all odds and beat the best to make history and qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
Nicknamed the Copper Queens, the girls from Bauleni, Mutendere, Chilenje, Chelston and Chibolya compounds defeated the 2019 Women’s World Cup representatives, Cameroon in the play-offs and Africa’s record nine-time champions Nigeria to take the only sought-after Olympics slot, and make a maiden appearance at the quadrennial sporting showpiece in Japan.
Placed in group F, alongside European champions Netherlands, China and Brazil, the Copper Queens carried the hopes and dreams of a million individuals from across the African continent as Africa’s sole representative in the women’s football tournament at the Olympic Games.
However, the Copper Queens’ historical appearance at the Olympics in Japan saw the team led by coach Bruce Mwape going through a lot of agony after failing to compete against their group F rivals who were all ranked better than them.
Their first encounter in Japan saw them recording an embarrassing 10-3 defeat to the Netherlands at Miyagi Stadium before the 4-4 stalemate with China at the same venue.
The first two encounters saw the Copper Queens captain Banda engraving her name in the history books of the competition by becoming the first Zambian to score at the Olympic Games in women’s football.
Banda also became the first African female footballer to score a hat-trick in the history of the Olympic Games. Her second hat-trick in the 4-4 draw with China made her the first female player to score two hat-tricks at a single tournament.
The 21 year old forward also equalled the record for most goals scored in a tournament which was set by Christine Sinclair of Canada who scored six goals at the 2012 Games in London.
The third game saw Zambia putting up a spirited fight in the 1-0 defeat to South American giants Brazil who needed some assistance from the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) to beat the Copper Queens who were reduced to 10 players after a red card on central defender Lushomo Mweemba.
Despite having failed to go past the group stage at the Olympics, the Copper Queens won the hearts of many stakeholders including President Edgar Lungu who hailed the Bruce Mwape-drilled side for representing Zambia and the whole Africa diligently at the Olympic Games.
“It was a great performance at the Olympics by our Copper Queens. Despite bowing out of the tournament, there are many positives to pick from the young ladies.
“One word that describes their performance is resilience. Despite the red card and a nasty injury to our goalkeeper, the girls remained resilient against strong opponents. You are a quintessence of hard “work, which is the true Zambian spirit.
“You kept your chin up against the best in the world. You are world class yourselves. Well done girls. You have represented your country and continent well and we are proud of you,” President Lungu said in his congratulatory message to the team.
The President was not the only one who was impressed by the team performance in Tokyo as the National Organisation for Women in Sports, Physical Activities and Recreation, (NOWSPAR) which prioritises on the wellbeing of women in sports and supports the sport sector to engage in organisational policy development, education, and practices to enhance safeguard and protect women from non-accidental harm in sport such as harassment, sexual abuse, discrimination among others saluted the girls for their impressive performances in Japan.
NOWSPAR Executive Director, Lombe Mwambwa said the Copper Queens who qualified and travelled to participate in very difficult economic, social, and health circumstances set the path towards better, timely, and higher quality investment in female athletes.
Mwambwa said the Copper Queens performance in Japan should inspire a change in the way women and girls are viewed for them to excel to greater heights.
“Some ways this can change is through increased recognition of their needs; including access to time, funding, training, and expertise.
“We need a culture that is open to women and girls being physically active for leisure and performance. This can be achieved through national policies that provide for adequate funding to schools and higher learning institutions to ensure they have sports facilities (beyond netball and football pitches), protect spaces in residential areas for physical activity and play for people of all ages, and invest in specialized sports facilities in all provinces in order to take sport closer to people,” Mwambwa said.
“This will enable not only athlete reach but also wider participation in coaching and other technical aspects of sport,” she said.
For the FAZ president Andrew Kamanga, equality and elevating women’s game to the level of the men’s game is one of the association’s goals which requires the support of all stakeholders.
“Our aim is to elevate the women’s game to the level of the men’s and this process has already started following the creation of the FAZ Women’s Super League which is ensuring that the women’s game is fully recognised countrywide and beyond the borders.
“I therefore wish to appeal to the corporate world to come on board as the team now needs our support as we prepare for the African Women’s Nations Tournament and the World Cup,” Kamanga said.
Meanwhile, FAZ women’s football representative Priscilla Katoba, said the exploits of the Copper Queens at the Olympic Games should motivate change in the way people perceive the participation of women in sports especially football.
Katoba, who is an officer in the Zambia Army and the president of Green Buffaloes Women Football Club, a position she has held for over six years said football is a career like any other and has the power to change the life of a girl-child.
Katoba, who is also the founder of Queens Sports Academy in Kabwe noted the need for more investment in women footballers who have the potential to bring a lot of honours to the country.
Katoba said because of not being able to receive the same attention from the corporate world which focus more on supporting men’s football development, women football faces a lot of challenges which affects its growth.
“We have seen what the girls are capable of doing. It was at a world platform where the girls performed and it is a plea from my side that everyone should come on board, the corporate world, Government and everyone we need to support women’s football which has shown that it has the potential too.
“We really need the support. Women football in Zambia has got no sponsors up to now but look at what the girls did in Japan. What if the cooperate world came on board to support women football in Zambia the way they do with men’s football,” Katoba said.
Katoba also appealed to parents stopping their children from taking part in sports to reconsider because women participation in football and sports in general has equal benefits for all participants
“To the girls I give them cuddles because they have shown that football can be taken as a fulltime career in our country by the girls so I think we have to accept it and support them.
“I would encourage the parents that are shunning their daughters from taking part in sport to accept that football is a career like any other and it’s taking girls out to enjoy their talents which are God-given,” Katoba said.
Knowing that the ecosystem of sport is quite wide and there is a chance to expand how women engage, there is surely need for all stakeholders to work together to realise the potential women have in the development of sports in our country.