Aspiring women's football boss lays out vision

HARARE - As a cadet business reporter on the Chronicle newspaper in Bulawayo years ago, Miriam Sibanda would occasionally be assigned to cover football matches whenever the sports desk was understaffed.

It was an extra responsibility at first, but a worthy experience all the same – one which saw Miriam fall in love with the world’s most beautiful game.

“Well, football started when I was seated where you are right now, as a reporter,” Sibanda, who is aspiring to become chairperson of Zimbabwe National Women’s Football at elections set for next month, tells the Daily News.

“It wasn’t the best of things you could do, because I was a business reporter and covering football was something you got assigned to do when an extra hand was needed. So occasionally I would be asked to go to Barbourfields Stadium to cover games. But I feel the highlight of my journalism career was when I became a freelance journalist and covered the Highlanders-Al Ahly match in the African Champions League in 2007 for Agence-France Press. You know how is it when you write for whoever asks you to write.”

Wife of Nlululeko Sibanda, owner of Twalumba Holdings and Division One Highfield United, Miriam’s vision for women’s football in Zimbabwe is based on the principles of making the franchise a marketable brand, attractive enough to entice sponsorship to the game, as well as reviving the defunct women’s national league. 

“I think it’s about more games, more women for football,” she says. 

“We need to be playing more football; we need to be involved in football in greater numbers. We need to enhance the participation of women in football – coaching, administration, refereeing, you name it.

“We need to bring value for women’s football to be marketable. Appropriate value has to be attached to the game. One, by getting teams that play a high standard of football so that fans don’t feel short-changed when they pay money to watch football.

“Those involved must be able to survive on it. The more games you play, the more exposure and greater public interest. That is how you get value. It’s essentially about giving value to women’s football.”

Another way of getting more women into the game, Sibanda says, is to work hand-in-hand with schools.

“We will work with institutions that work with the girl child, especially schools. We will encourage them to have girls’ teams, starting at Under-10 level. If kids are talking about football from that early age, it generates interest.”

Sibanda’s interest in football grew deeper when Twalumba Holdings, a company she co-runs with her husband, bankrolled Castle Premiership club Black Mambas few seasons ago. 

“We sponsored Black Mambas for a year and half. We realised football could be good business if done properly,” she says.

“So when the opportunity to get into football arose, I didn’t hesitate. When the Highfield United (now playing in Division One as Twalumba FC) franchise came up for sell we said ‘wow, why not’”. For the first year we made the basic mistakes that a lot of people make. We wanted to do everything in one year.

“We did introspection and realised we were doing things wrongly. We sat down and relooked our model, came up with policies and put in place a system that we are trying to adhere to. We started to attend international football conferences and got clarity on how the club should be run. We realised football should be run as a business. We want to do the same with women’s football. We are trying to share the same attitude with stakeholders in women football. That will be one way of adding value to the game.

“The girl child must realise something from their involvement. The coaches too, the club owners, even the spectators need to feel they are getting value from women’s football.”

Women’s football gained unprecedented popularity in Zimbabwe at the turn of the millennium, but the sport has suffered underfunding lately while allegations of mismanagement have hindered growth. Sibanda believes women’s football failed to capitalise on its early popularity. 

“I think with all things, when you start there is a lot of enthusiasm,” she says.

“It’s the staying power that has been lacking. It’s really an issue of the inability to sustain those energy levels. Our challenge will be how do we revive the energy and how do we sustain it. You sustain it by getting stakeholders to meet, and constantly meeting to update each other of our success and failures.

“Having the Super League not being played is not conducive. Football is about competitive play at a high level. You discourage players if you let them train and then they don’t get game time.

‘We must have competition at schools, regional and provincial level. Women’s football is not just about the Mighty Warriors.”

The Mighty Warriors, the national side, will be handed over to Zifa under her administration.

“The reality is you cannot do football without corporation with Zifa, as you know they are the mother body,” reveals Sibanda.

“You can’t survive without keeping links with Zifa. Let them do what they are mandated to do, and let us do what we mandated to do. Our role is to run leagues and develop football.  The Mighty Warriroas are the responsibility of Zifa. We put systems in place for them to pick players for the national team. Our core business is to play women’s football and develop the game. Zifa comes and say ‘we want that player, that player and that player’.

“We appreciate that we need to have a good relationship with Zifa for us to thrive as women’s football.”

Sibanda, who is also a commissioner on the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) and sits on the Champions Insurance board, launched her campaign in Bulawayo at the weekend during a meeting attended by women’s football stakeholders in the region.

“It was humbling to be afforded the chance to talk to them,” she says.  “They were open enough to talk to me of their expectations. It was enlightening. What came out clearly was that these are football people who want to play. There have not been able to do that. They want someone who would help them play. Someone who could help them organise themselves. I took time to listen. They were able to ask questions. I think I was able to answer them. We truck a rapport, which was what we wanted to achieve.”

Comments (1)

Be careful of this thief and her evil little husband. They respresent all that is rotten in Zimbabwe, they will plunder and steal anything they can get their hands on. They owe money all over town and lie as easily as they breathe.

Vitalis - 21 March 2014

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