The value to all of the COSAFA Women’s Championship

The 2017 COSAFA Women’s Championship will be another step forward for the game in the Southern African region and a rare running of the tournament that for many players will be a welcome introduction to international football.

The draw for the expanded 12-team event, the biggest ever COSAFA Women’s Championship to be staged, will take place on Wednesday, August 23 at COSAFA House in Johannesburg.

The finals will be held in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe from September 13-24, giving many of the competing teams their first international action in years.

Like the other COSAFA properties, that include the COSAFA Castle Cup, and junior national team competitions, the Women’s Championship provides a vital platform for develop and grow new talent in the region.

At the heart of the tournament is the belief that the players deserve the opportunity to showcase their talent to a wide audience, and at the same time attempt to make a career for themselves in the game.

Women’s football across the African continent is largely still an amateur pursuit, but within the global game there is the opportunity for players to earn a living from the sport.

Scouts will no doubt be very keen spectators at the COSAFA Women’s Championship, where unpolished gems are sure to be found among players who are competing at that level for the first time.

For more established sides like South Africa, who have a regular diet of international competition, the championships present a different sort of opportunity, a chance to build towards the African Women’s Championships.

Their coach, Desiree Ellis, says the competition is vital in determining what her best squad is.

“When you are looking into the group of 34 and thinking how do we select the 23 that is needed for the COSAFA Women’s Championships, it’s a terrible headache,” she said.

“You put down names on a paper and move them around and you realise how much talent there is available to us, but that is the challenge you want – if you leave someone out it is not because they are not a good player it is just that the other one is better after you have worked around scenarios, and what-ifs.

“That is why you would select player A ahead of player B. We interacted with their coaches when we gave the players training programmes because at the end of the day it is not only going to benefit us but all clubs.

“We have been on an extensive search for talent through the women’s league roadshows that were recently conducted where we identified some good players who are capable of representing the country.

“We obviously have a core group of players who have the experience of such competitions but we need to keep everyone on their toes and ensure that no one is comfortable or is assured of a place,” Ellis said.

And so for teams that are just trying to find their way in international football, and others whose goals include trying to qualify for the FIFA Women’s World Cup in France in 2019, the COSAFA Women’s Championships holds equal importance and value in their eyes.

And this, expended 12-team competition in 2017, should be the biggest and best platform yet laid for women’s football in Southern Africa.