- FIFA instructor Jacqueline Shipanga from Namibia took part in the FIFA Technical Experts’ Workshop in Doha
- She gave an insight into the development of women’s football in her country
- Shipanga thinks grass roots and youth football are on the right path, but wants to see regular age-group tournaments
Jacqueline Shipanga was just a girl back at the beginning of the 1980s, when she would run through the streets of Okahandja with a tennis racket in her hand, looking for other children to play with. Though the racket was wooden and showing plenty of signs of use, that did not stop her from wanting to emulate the stars of the time, like Martina Navratilova, Jennifer Capriati and Steffi Graf.
Playing tennis was no easy feat, however. The courts where she lived were the preserve of the elite, but luckily for Shipanga, her four brothers were passionate about a sport that took place on a larger and more accessible playing field – football – and their sister was soon bitten by the bug.
That football is so open is one of the things that Shipanga loves about it. "Football is a sport for one and all, for rich and poor alike," she explains. "It is a team sport, and all you need is a ball. And at grass roots level in particular, it can unite girls and boys."
Shipanga rose up to become captain and then coach of the Namibian women’s team, and is now part of the women’s department of the country’s national association, having graduated from the FIFA Master programme. Promoting the sport is her new passion, and one that instantly came across at the Technical Experts’ Workshop in Doha, where she spoke animatedly about the experiences that she has had.
She declared herself satisfied with the development of the game at youth level, and rightly so – since the "NFA Galz & Goals" programme was introduced in 2009, football has become the most popular sport in the country among girls.
The figures speak for themselves
- 20,000 girls were involved in the programme
- 12 regional leagues created at U-13 – U-17 level
- A national championship is also held every year
At senior level however, Shipanga sees room for improvement. There is a lack of regular competitions for the women’s players to measure their progress. The national league, that was first created in 2012, died a death three years ago, and international matches have also become increasingly rare.
"A 16-year-old women’s player will get to feature in two qualifying matches for the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup," she says. "If the team then doesn’t get through, her next international match won’t be for another two or three years, when qualifying comes around for the U-20 tournament.". And this, she believes, is too little for the players to take their development to the next level and remain competitive.
Shipanga sees South Africa as the example to follow in terms of what can be achieved with the right motivation. "Their national association is one of the few in Africa that has invested significant sums in women’s football and which is purposely committing to improve and further develop the game," she says in a tone that displays her level of admiration.
She is also delighted that FIFA is being so supportive and showing the way forward – by means of workshops like the one in Doha and also the FIFA Forward Programme, which is helping to strengthen not only women’s football but also the role that female staff can play throughout the various national associations. "Our women’s players have not only had a successful career in football, but have also gone on to become highly employable," she says proudly.
Another highlight for Shipanga has been seeing first hand how the exchange of information and expertise has helped the national associations to advance. "Countries such as Gambia, Zambia and Zimbabwe, which I visited as part of FIFA development programmes, then went on to qualify for World Cups or Olympic Games within two or three years," she explains.
A FIFA instructors’ course in Madrid, which saw her meet the likes of Hope Powell and Betty Wong, helped Shipanga get a better perspective of the importance of the part that she plays in this development process, and appreciate the importance of strong personalities who can lead and inspire. "The need to share information and expertise became a real priority for me," she adds.
The girl who once scoured the streets of Okahandja with a tennis racket has grown up to become a woman who loves football with a passion, who plays and coaches, trains others in how to coach and happily passes on her experiences. She has made it her aim to strengthen the development of women’s football in her home country, and the way she summarises how she lives her life in general is a perfect illustration of her commitment to the sport she has chosen. "We should not be proud of what we do for ourselves, but of what we do for others."