Groundbreaking national league helping alter perceptions in South Sudan
The landlocked East African nation earned independence in 2011. Decades of regional conflict have finally come to end. And one thing that certainly unites the country and the region is a passion for football.
Just a fortnight ago, and two years since the national women’s team played its first match, the well-credentialed Shilene Booysen was named South Sudan’s coach for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup™ cycle. The appointment reflects the South Sudan Football Association’s (SSFA) bold goals on being the number one women’s football nation in the region.
Booysen, who was an assistant at Houston Dash and on the coaching staff with South Africa during France 2019, recognised the desire within the federation, saying: “When I saw what South Sudan was doing in terms of women’s football and the strategy that the SSFA has put in place ... since then I have always wanted to be a part of something like this.”
On Saturday the nation’s football history reached another major milestone moment with a first-ever national women’s football league kicking-off, another component in the association’s Stars Unite women's football strategy.
“The women's league will create a pathway for players to be selected for the senior women’s national team, the women’s league will also make scouting of players easy and make the selection process of the best players easy,” Jean Sseninde, SSFA Women’s Football Consultant and CAF Women’s Football Committee member, told FIFA.com.
“The women's league is going to boost the increase of a number of women/girls playing football in the country at all levels including the national league, grassroots tournaments, schools and communities in line with one of our key strategic goal to increase the number of women playing football. This will be the first time players will be competing competitively so it is really exciting.”
Sseninde says there are traditional social stigmas that sometimes need to be overcome when it comes to females playing sport. Changing mindsets, it is hoped, will be an indirect positive spin-off from the profile a national league offers. “It is a great challenge we have on our hands to change mindsets, especially in some areas it is normal for young girls at 15 to be married off to rich men. They are not allowed to be involved in sports after that, which is really sad.
“With time we shall hopefully (change that). We have to take it one step at a time but we are really working incredibly hard and are on the right path.”
The national league is a key pillar in the SSFA’s long-term goal for women’s football. Among the goals are to obtain a FIFA ranking for the very first time and be the number one nation in East Africa.
“I know we can (achieve these goals) because we are doing all the basics right,” says Sseninde, who is also a former Uganda international. “We want the team to compete in more Women's competitions and matches, so for the next few years we shall be building the process and building the team to hopefully win the East African Championship.”
“We are building something special, we are creating a firm foundation not just for us but for the future generations of all women's footballers in South Sudan to come. We want to be the best both on and off the pitch.
“We have a vision and despite the challenges, we want to focus on the process of our journey together. We are maybe a new country but we surely are committed with every bit in us to be one of the best in the near future.”
Originally published by FIFA.
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