Friday, June 24, 2011

In African Women’s Soccer, Homophobia Remains an Obstacle [NYTimes]

Shortly before she was hired in 2009 as the first female coach of Nigeria’s powerful women’s national soccer team, Eucharia Uche said at a seminar that she was troubled by the presence of lesbians on the squad, calling it a "worrisome experience."

Over the past two years, as Nigeria progressed toward the Women’s World Cup, which begins Sunday in Germany, Uche said that she has used religion in an attempt to rid her team of homosexual behavior, which she termed a "dirty issue," and "spiritually, morally very wrong."

FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, states as part of its mission a desire to use the game in "overcoming social and cultural obstacles for women with the ultimate aim of improving women’s standing in society." But the story of Nigeria’s Super Falcons illustrates the cultural obstacles that remain for many African women who play soccer decades after more assertive efforts at inclusivity occurred in places like the United States, Germany, Norway, Sweden and more recently in Brazil.

Uche said she had never witnessed her own players participating in homosexual activity. Instead, she said that she had relied on rumors, speculation and news media accounts to form her belief that lesbian behavior had been common in the Nigerian team.

"When rumors are strong, you are bound to believe it is happening," Uche, 38, said in a telephone interview from Nigeria’s World Cup training camp in Saalfelden, Austria.

In March, Uche made similar remarks to The Daily Sun newspaper of Nigeria. The newspaper also quoted a former technical assistant for the country’s soccer federation, James Peters, saying that he had removed some players from Nigeria’s women’s team last year, "not because they were not good players, but because they were lesbians."

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