Players from one of Africa’s biggest football clubs, Tout Puissant Mazembe, train on the field before their next game. In Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, her coach Maguy Safi, the first coach of her women’s team, is on the sidelines.
On the small dusty field, Maguy Safi gives instructions to her players as a curious look. Her path to this coveted coaching position was not easy, she says.
Despite knocking on the doors of a football club with her bachelor’s degree in her pocket, she repeatedly encountered misogyny and discrimination when applying for coaching positions.
“It was a little difficult for me – people wouldn’t accept me,” she says.
“I hurt when I applied to coach a team and I was always told they needed a man but I had a degree in sports,” she added.
Maguy was confronted with sexist statements, even from her own neighborhood; People told her to stop playing football and, as a woman, adapt to social norms.
“People told me that women who play sports are lesbians and whores,” she told RFI’s Africa Calling Podcast.
She says it was her emotional support from her parents and her education that helped her deal with these situations.
“The sport we do is a profession like any other profession like medicine, and I chose the sport,” says Safi, adding that she is proud to be an athlete.
Changes in perception in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Safi has struggled on the road to success, but the perception of women in sport in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is changing. In the past, parents rarely let their daughters play football because it was considered a men’s sport.
In order to attract women to DCMP Bikira’s women’s soccer team, of which Safi was a member, part of the challenge was to convince parents to let their daughters play, says Arthur Kikuni, secretary of the team.
“There has been a serious problem with women’s football in the past. When you see a girl playing football, it was really strange. Parents had a hard time letting go of their daughters to play football,” says Kikuni.
“But over time they understood that it’s a sport like any other sport, like volleyball or handball. But in promoting gender equality in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, parents got the message, ”he adds.
She has made a name for herself at DCMP Bikira, not only on the field, but also on the sidelines. The current coach of the DCMP Bikira women’s soccer team, Guelord Kandanga, is one of her mentees. She hired him as an assistant coach in 2014 and says her dedication to the game inspires him.
“I became a trainer today thanks to Ms. Safi. She is unique as a trainer in our Haut Katanga region and what she does is wonderful, ”says Kandanga.
“She is proud of the province and I believe she will be at the top of the national team by 2025,” he added.
Railway master to soccer coach
Even though soccer is her profession now, Safi didn’t start with soccer, she did began her athletic career in athletics, encouraged by her parents.
The three-time champion of the 100-meter race, who competed at world level in South Korea in 2011, finally had the soccer field in her sights.
Her father was initially against her when she played soccer, even though she played the game in school. After her Father died, she decided to join DCMP Bikira, a women’s soccer team.
She relied on the advice and guidance of her parents, who insisted that she work toward a profession combined sports and studies until she graduated in physical education and sports management.
“My parents pushed me to study and told me that if I want to do sports, I have to quit my studies,” she says, which she believes has enabled her to make good decisions.
“They told me …” I want you to be a professional wherever you want, “says Safi.
“I always tell myself that my parents helped me a lot,” she adds.
Progress in women’s football
Although the women’s tournaments in the DRC are less developed than in other countries, Eric Bangapila, The Mazembe women’s sports doctor believes that women players have a future in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“We want women’s football to emerge. As in other countries, there are also championships in women’s football. Why not here in the Democratic Republic of the Congo? “Says Bangapila.
TP Mazembe founded its women’s club to meet the requirements of the International Football Federation (FIFA) and the African Football Federation (CAF). More and more young women are being encouraged to play. The talent of women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is evident, Bangapila says.
“See how the girls who are doing their best to play football is our desire to help them even more and to encourage them so that they can emerge and develop,” he says.
However, there are few professional soccer leagues and female coaches struggle to gain acceptance with women’s soccer teams.
Safi is a sign of hope for women who dream big – she wants to break stereotypes and take Mazembe’s new women’s team as far as possible.
This team is a first step, Safi dreams of coaching the national team as well, which is part of an effort to break female stereotypes in the sport.
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