(7 mins read)
2020 was supposed to be the year of big sporting events such as the Olympic Games, Africa Women’s Cup of Nations, and Uefa men’s Euros. But then the coronavirus pandemic came upon us, all aspects of life including sports came to an unexpected halt. Many competitions were canceled, jobs were lost and salaries cut, it was women’s sport that was hit particularly hard.
When measures were put in place to allow some elite sports to return, women’s sport was often not considered “elite” enough. But in spite of these setbacks, these African women’s sport and female sports personalities recorded some wins in 2020 – so let’s dive in:
Despite the cancellation of the 2020 Africa Women’s Cup of Nations due to Covid-19, funding was made available to all 56 African member associations to help with the development of the game. Football’s governing body Fifa sent a million dollars each to African federations specifically for women’s football. And the cancellation led to an unexpected shake-up in the running of women’s football in Africa. The first African Women’s Champions League was announced, to begin in 2021.
National team football still got some exposure with the Southern African Football Association, COSAFA, still able to hold its annual women’s tournament, resulting in South Africa and Tanzania being crowned champions at the Senior and U17 level respectively. Meanwhile friendly games and league football returned to countries such as Ghana, Morocco, Zambia, and Nigeria under new Covid-19 protocols. Perhaps the big news was African teams attracting some of the best coaches in the women’s game.
Nigeria signed American coach Randy Waldrum, who was in charge of US Women’s league club Houston Dash, while Morocco signed Reynald Pedros, who twice took Lyon to the Uefa Women’s Champions League title.
There was real excitement at the Australian Open in January when Ons Jabeur became the first North African player to reach the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam since Morocco’s Hicham Arazi at the same event in 2004. She did so by defeating former world number one Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki, in what was her final tennis match before retirement. The 26-year-old also became the first African woman in the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam since South Africa’s Amanda Coetzer at the 2001 Australian Open.
While Covid-19 certainly stopped the Tunisian‘s run, another African made headlines across the tennis world for her open letter to one of the sport’s top players.
In May, Algeria‘s Ines Ibbou was hailed as a ”hero” by Venus Williams while earning the word “respect” from Nick Kyrgios, after posting an emotional video addressed to World No. 3 Dominic Thiem – a result of his opposition to the idea of a coronavirus relief fund for lower-ranked players, proposed by Novak Djokovic.
Kenya‘s road runner Peres Jepchirchir set two half-marathon world records at the World Half Marathon Championship in Poland, breaking her own record set in 2016. She also became the Valencia marathon champion, clocking a women’s course record and in the process, moving to fifth place on the all-time ranking. The 27-year-old has simply been the best this year.
In the same competition in Valencia, Ethiopian 1500 meters star and record holder Genzebe Dibaba ran 65:18 to win her half-marathon debut.
Additionally, in October, Ethiopia’s Letesenbet Gidey set a new 5000 meters world record in 14:06.62 at the Valencia World Record Day meet, breaking compatriot Tirunesh Dibaba’s 12-year-old record.
As impressive as this glut of world records is, they have come amidst controversy – both for the new types of shoe being worn and, for 22-year-old Gidey, for use of the wave light technology that indicates the pace runners need to go at.
Cricket has proved to be exceptionally popular for young Rwandan women. Women’s cricket in Africa was hit hard, with a number of ODIs and T20Is canceled and rescheduled. However, in August the International Cricket Commission (ICC) singled out Rwanda for its ”outstanding achievements” in the growth of the women’s game.
The Rwanda Cricket Association won the 100% Cricket Participation Programme of the Year as a result of its partnership with Cricket Builds Hope, a charity that uses cricket to bring about social change in rural Rwanda.
In addition to the award, the ICC announced the qualification process for the Women’s T20 World Cup in South Africa in February 2023 will officially start in 2021; Botswana will host Africa’s rounds in October, with Cameroon, Namibia, Nigeria, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe all set to compete.
Women in leadership
There were also victories for women in football as two African football club giants, Congo‘s AS Vita, and Tanzania’s Simba FC, appointed Bestine Kazidi and Barbara Gonzalez as Club President and CEO respectively. This is the first time in the history of the clubs that women have been appointed to top leadership positions.
Meanwhile, the African Volleyball Confederation (CAVB) assigned former international player Bochra Hajij, the presidency of the CAVB, with the Moroccan becoming its first female president.
As the world learns to adjust to the new normal, women’s sport in Africa aims to continue thriving – as long as it is given the right amount of support. 2021 is expected to hold even greater accomplishments for African women in sports
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