Women raise superstars, why are they still lacking in sports management?

Grace Nyinawumuntu is one of the most renowned women in sports management in Rwanda. She coached the women’s national football team and guided AS Kigali (women) to eight league titles in a row. / Net.

Sunday, the 10th of May, saw many athletes and sports personalities paying tribute to their Moms, as they tend to do every Mothers’ Day and while all the sweet and heartfelt messages are touching, they also raise some questions. 

Like why these women who raised some of the world’s most successful stars are not more actively involved in sports? Surely, they must know a thing or two about whichever sport their children play, after all they were the ones who signed them up for extracurricular activities, dropped them off for practice and watched from the sidelines as their sons and daughters honed their craft long before the scouts and big name clubs came calling. 

 

Some of them are single mothers who worked multiple jobs so their kids could attend elite sports academies, moved to different cities, countries and even across continents to offer the support their children needed. 

 

They were their children’s first agent, coach and manager all rolled into one and yes, they may have repeatedly scolded their children for playing before doing their homework or had a strict “no kicking or throwing balls in the house” policy but guess who bought the balls? Those very Moms so it’s always nice when the children, now accomplished, give credit where it’s due by acknowledging their mothers’ instrumental role in their success. 

 

Who can forget NBA Star Kevin Durant’s 2014 tearful MVP Acceptance Speech that laid bare his family’s struggles early on and his Mom Wanda’s resilience struggling to provide for him and his siblings? 

“You waking me up in the middle of the night in the summertime, making me run up the hill, making me do push-ups, screaming at me from the sideline at my games at 8 or 9 years old. You made us believe. You kept us off the street. You put clothes on our backs. You put food on the table. When you didn’t eat, you made sure we ate and you went to sleep hungry.” 

That is the kind of speech every grateful child should give regardless of their level of success in life. There’s also Mama Pogba aka PogMa aka Yeo Moriba, a sports enthusiast herself having played various sports and credited by not one but all three of her professional footballer sons including Paul Pogba and his twin brothers Florentin and Mathias for their success. 

You have probably seen pictures of her always in the company of her sons who she says are her ‘job’, but most notably after France’s 2018 World Cup Win, beaming with pride and rightly so. 

Another proud Matriarch? Cristiano Ronaldo’s Mom, Maria Dolores dos Santos Aveiro, usually his plus one at glitzy award ceremonies and it must be intentional. If Ronaldo spends a lot of his downtime with family, especially his children who he often incorporates in his workout and training sessions, you know where he gets it from. 

Didier Drogba’s Mom Clotilde Drogba who dedicated her time to ensuring non-playing staff and travelling fans had sumptuous home-cooked meals back when her son captained the National Team. While others enjoyed the live Afcon and World Cup fixtures featuring her son, she had one eye on the TV and another on the food she was cooking, which is such a Mom thing to do. 

LeBron James’ Mom Gloria who had him aged just 16 and yet LeBron will be the first to tell you that it was the choices and sacrifices she made that made him the man he is today. That he took her last name says a lot. 

Examples of these exceptional mothers are many and a testament to the fact that behind many professional athletes are hardworking and selfless women and yet sports management remains a male-dominated world. No major sports franchise or club is owned by a woman at the moment and coaching roles for women are almost non-existent even for women’s sport. 

Andy and Jamie Murray’s Mom Judy is one of the few professional Tennis coaches, having started out coaching her own sons before moving on to other players. Asked why she went into coaching, she said she wanted to raise the profile of female coaches and help reduce sexism in Sport and that is probably the main reason women are reluctant to get involved. 

Half the time, people think you do not know what you are doing and the other half, it is outright misogyny and bigotry. All the more credit to the likes of Isha Johansen, the Sierra Leonean Football Association President and currently the only woman on the entire African Continent serving in that capacity. 

Hard to believe the abuse she’s been subjected to during her tenure and at one point was even jailed on dubious financial mismanagement charges despite FIFA categorically stating they had no reason to believe there had been any misuse of funds allocated to the Sierra Leonean FA. 

And, this is a woman with solid credentials, having not only played the game but started her own football club, FC Johansen. She has also overseen several other initiatives including Powerplay which encourages girls and women to embrace the game.

FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura faced a similar uphill battle when tasked with cleaning house at CAF last year and look what she did in the 6 short months she was there. Nobody is suggesting that women are perfect and would run sports without a glitch but wouldn’t it be nice if they were given the opportunity and enjoyed a level playing field so to speak? 

The US Women’s Soccer Team lodged and lost their equal pay suit despite boasting an impressive record having won back-to-back World Cups and Four Olympic Gold Medals in recent times where the Men’s Team hasn’t been as successful. 

Prior to the ruling, the US Soccer Federation had been criticized for remarks suggesting that women are not as skilled and have less demanding roles than their male counterparts. 

Sadly, these are widely held sentiments and you’re tempted to remind everybody about the likes of Serena Williams who was eight weeks pregnant with her now three-year-old daughter Olympia when she won the Australian Open in 2017, her 23rd Grand Slam Title and she has since reached five more finals including the US Open and Wimbledon. 

She may have lost all of them but let’s not forget that she suffered near-fatal complications after giving birth and to have recovered, got back in shape that fast and still be competing at 38 is a feat in itself. So don’t tell women they have less demanding roles.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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