By Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D.
Emeritus Professor of Sociology
When the final whistle blew when the Copper Queens won 3-1 against Costa Rica, I was thrilled, dancing, and beaming with pride. The first and historic Zambia Women’s participation in the football World Cup was over. In fact, all Zambians should be proud and congratulate the team. The team played their best and represented us well on and off the pitch. We had not even scored a goal after the first two games that we lost.
What I was afraid of was that if the team had lost all 3 games and not even scored a single goal, it was going to be a disaster. It means if the team ever qualified again to the World Cup next time, the first thing the football commentators were going to say is: “In their first World Cup, The Zambian Copper Queens never won a game or even scored one goal.” That big monkey has been taken off the nation and the team’s back.
The football commentators kept highlighting that FIFA ranked the Copper Queens 77th which was the lowest ranked team in the tournament. If many of the current team members remain on the team for a longer time, their World Cup experience will be invaluable in helping the entire Copper Queens team play and improve to the very highest and most challenging world cup football standard.
Since the team is back home and their world cup participation dust is beginning to clear, it may be useful as a nation to make an assessment of their play and look to both broad and specific recommendations for the future improvement of the team in particular and football in general in Zambia.
The government needs proper funding for the women’s national team. Zambians as patriotic private citizens need to also contribute toward material resources in support of the team. We ought to have fan clubs and donations from all over the country. The team’s play and achievements so far have demonstrated that they deserve more and the best funding.
One thing I noticed that troubled me was that the Zambia players were slipping a lot during the first game against Japan. I saw at least ten players slip and as a result could not get up in time to make the play. I did not see even one Japanese player slip. Both teams were obviously playing on the same slippery field conditions probably because of rain. Fortunately, brand new and better cleats were bought for the team before the game against Spain.
FAZ needs to properly investigate the allegations against the coach about sexual harassment of the players. If the allegations are found to be true, the coach needs to be disciplined. Players need to be counseled and empowered so that they have recourse for reporting if they are victims of such terrible conduct on the part of this coach and any other future coaches. If sexual harassment is tolerated, this would discourage players from joining the team. This could also destroy the morale and cohesion of the team.
The Zambian’s women’s team is not alone. On October 3 2022, The Guardian reported an investigation that had found wide spread sexual abuse and harassment of players of United States Women’s National Soccer Team by male coaches.
In my last 31 years since 1990, I have been closely involved in helping, sponsoring and organizing football teams for local young men and children in rural areas in Lundazi in Zambia and here in the United States. Football or soccer was unknown in the United States in schools and local communities in 1990. Some local families and I, helped introduce soccer in the local communities to a point where today thirty years later we have boys and girls’ soccer teams in all local schools.
What we need to do in the whole of Zambia is introduce football for girls and women all over the country. This should be in all the schools and villages including in the rural areas. The urban poor townships could also encourage football teams for girls.
Once we have football teams for girls all over Zambia, it will then be possible for the Women’s national team to recruit players from rural areas such as in Kalabo, Mwinilunga, Mbala, Gwembe Valley as well as in townships such as in Lusaka, Livingstone, Ndola, and Chililabombwe. Some of the best athletes might be in rural areas. Doing all of this will require tremendous national will and dedication. Getting better results for the Women’s nation team will not be easier next time as all over the world today, women’s football play is getting better as shown in some of the upsets in the current world cup.
As I am watching the teams playing in the round of 16, I am noticing that most of the players from the top remaining teams are taller, big, faster, and stronger. I noticed this for the Colombian team and the British Lionesses. We could debate this as one can ask whether being big, taller, and stronger is achievable or necessary. Isn’t athleticism enough? Maybe we should introduce a new modern, uniquely Zambian athletic diet and training regimen for our national teams if we are not doing that already.
Lastly, the Zambian Men’s National Football team, the Chipolopolo boys, are now on notice. The Copper Queens qualified for the World Cup. The men should now be challenged to qualify for the world cup. This should provide the team more motivation.