The NYT's Jere Longman has a very good article today about homophobia in women's soccer in Africa. He focuses on Nigeria, which was one of the teams that accused Equatorial Guinea of using male players.
When I first read the headline, "In African Women's Soccer, Homophobia Remains an Obstacle," I thought to myself "we shouldn't be hierarchizing homophobia in women's soccer." And we shouldn't conclude that everything is exponentially worse in Africa.
After all, homophobia remains a problem internationally. As I recall, I posted something last week about members of the U-22 German women's team posing for Playboy in an attempt to counter the butch image of female footballers. That is also homophobia, folks.
But things are pretty bad in Africa--maybe not all of Africa--but definitely in Nigeria. When I read about Nigerian coach Eucharia Uche's actions and statements, I thought "wow, she's worse than Rene Portland."
Uche, like Portland, has made public statements about how she does not want lesbians on her team. But while Portland's tactics to discourage lesbians on Penn State's basketball team were kind of subversive, Uche is very out about her ways. She brings in Pentecostal ministers to talk about the evils of homosexuality. The team reads the Bible and they pray together. Former team members have been cut, because they were lesbians, despite their soccer skills. In other words, there is no subtlety here. And her players have fallen in line because they either believe what Uche is preaching or because they want a spot on the team and a soccer career. Nigeria's captain and goalkeeper, Precious Dede, won't talk about the issue and says that anything her coach says is fact.
I don't believe in making statements like "it's worse in Africa because you can be killed for being gay." Because someone can be killed for being gay almost anywhere in the world. The difference in Africa is that, in some countries, it is legal to kill someone for engaging in homosexual behavior. Still, the fear of being caught or found out is an unfortunate shared experience whether homosexual behavior is outlawed or not.
And on the issue of male players masquerading as women? Well the Confederation of African Football has dismissed the complaint filed by Nigeria. But Uche has said: “Until it is proved, no one can say a player is a man or a woman.”
Also a good point made by Longman's sources: FIFA is not doing anything to help this situation. They have done good work in recent years trying to combat racism in the sport, but it seems they won't touch sexual orientation discrimination. It is indeed a fraught issue given the religious objections to homosexuality found in countries like Nigeria. But that is no excuse. As we know, religion can be used to condone or support almost any behavior.