Regional success shines a spotlight on COSAFA initiatives

The incredible success of South Africa, Zambia and Botswana at the 2022 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations is down to the excellent programmes for women in those countries, but there is no doubt that COSAFA has also played its part in their development as a team.

South Africa won a first ever continental crown on Saturday as they beat hosts Morocco 2-1 in the final, while Zambia claimed the bronze medal with a historic 1-0 success over Nigeria in the third-place play-off.

Botswana were appearing in their first continental showpiece event and reached the quarterfinals, a huge step forward for women’s football in that country, where the future looks incredibly bright.

The achievements for all three are the rewards for hard work and dedication from the players and coaching staff, but it is also fair to say they have benefitted enormously from the platform given to them by COSAFA at both club and country level.

FIFA’s Chief Women’s Football Officer Sarai Bareman said as much on a visit to the COSAFA region last year.

“I love the work that COSAFA is doing for women’s football. They are one of the regions that we have seen has been consistently investing in the women’s game, especially through competitions like we see here [the 2021 TotalEnergies CAF Women’s Champions League | COSAFA Qualifier],” Bareman said.

“They are also investing in youth with a [Girls] Under-15 tournament as part of the legacy programme. So, there is a lot of work happening with Sue [Destombes] and her team, and COSAFA is a wonderful region and example for women’s football.”
Bareman reflected on what still needed to be done to grow the game, which 12 months later still rings true.

“We want to see more women in leadership positions, these sorts of things should be normalised. And we can only do that by growing at grassroots [level] and to get more people taking part, but also investing at the top level,” she said.

“We need more sponsors for the women’s game and for me, it is a no-brainer. Women’s football has so many qualities associated with it that so many companies would love to align with. It is a beautiful sport.”

Three-time CAF Women’s Coach of the Year Desiree Ellis has also long been a supporter of the COSAFA tournaments as providing opportunities in international football for teams across the region that, for many, would otherwise not be there.

“People cannot imagine how COSAFA has helped us in preparing us for WAFCON and to get to the World Cup,” she said.

Without the COSAFA tournaments, teams and players would be idle at international level for long periods, which does nothing to help them develop as a team nor prepare them for continental competition.

Here is a list of the tournaments COSAFA hosts to help develop women’s football in the region.

This tournament is played during women’s competitions such as the HOLLYWOODBETS COSAFA Women’s Championship, COSAFA Women’s Under-17 Championship or, as with last year, the TotalEnergies CAF Women’s Champions League | COSAFA Qualifier. It gives local girls in the host city the opportunity to play for a trophy in this age-group and test their skills against their peers, fostering a love for the game.    

There has been an organised championship in this age-group since 2019, with the first played in Mauritius that year, but it has also formed part of the AUSC Region 5 Games for some years before that, alternating with the Under-20s. This, for many players, is their first introduction to international football and gives them a taste of the level required. It is a hugely important competition to give them a grounding in national team competition. It is due to be held in Malawi this year from November 30-December 10.

Another competition that has been played for many years as part of the AUSC Region 5 Games, the inaugural stand-alone event was also staged in 2019 and won by East African guest nation Tanzania. The COVID-19 pandemic has curtailed the number of competitions played since then, but it is very much on the radar to resume. It is an excellent bridge for players between Under-17 and senior international football.

The flagship regional competition for women is one of the best in the world and has provided an excellent opportunity to fine-tune for all teams, but especially South Africa, Zambia and Botswana. The fact that it has been played annually since 2017 means they have had five years, prior to this one, to build and develop their squads, and they have quite obviously used their time well. It will once again be staged in Gqeberha this year and is to be played from September 17-25.

This is a competition for champion clubs from the region and was first staged in 2021, providing the opportunity to qualify for the CAF Women’s Champions League finals, which this year will be in Morocco. Many players who have excelled at international level for teams in the region also played in this competition which provided them with more experience at a level above domestic football. This year’s competition will be held in Durban from August 6-13.