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.
Japan and North Korea have recently supplanted China as Asian powers. For the first time, Colombia has qualified for the Women’s World Cup, a quadrennial tournament that began in 1991 and now includes 16 teams. Equatorial Guinea from west-central Africa will also make its inaugural appearance, and Nigeria will participate for the sixth time.
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.”
That was not her style, Uche said from Austria. Instead, she said, she had regularly brought in Pentecostal ministers to pray with and counsel her players. Her players routinely read the Bible and sometimes prayed together, Uche said.
“The issue of lesbianism is common,” said Uche, who previously played in the World Cup for Nigeria and described herself as a Christian who is married and a mother of two children. “I came to realize it is not a physical battle; we need divine intervention in order to control and curb it. I tell you it worked for us. This is a thing of the past. It is never mentioned.”
On a continent where homosexual behavior is widely considered immoral, lesbians are sometimes ostracized and subjected to beatings. In countries like South Africa and Zimbabwe, some women are raped in a so-called corrective treatment for homosexual behavior.
In one high-profile case in South Africa, a top female soccer player and lesbian activist, Eudy Simelane, 31, was murdered in 2008. Although one of her attackers testified that robbery was the motive in the stabbing death, Simelane’s death became the focus of a campaign to draw attention to violence against gays and lesbians.
Last year, Nigeria accused Equatorial Guinea of using at least one and perhaps two male players on its team because of their supposed masculine appearance. Soccer officials from Equatorial Guinea called the charge unfounded, saying it stemmed from an “inferiority complex” among rival African teams.
Source: The New York Times