Where in the World is WoSo is an occasional series focusing on some of the lower-profile or lesser-known Women’s National Teams and soccer leagues around the globe. These are teams we feel deserve a shout-out for their efforts both on and off the pitch to build a love of soccer in their communities and nations.
The Liberia Women’s National Football Team hasn’t taken the field in an official FIFA match since 2014, but make no mistake, women’s soccer is alive and well in Liberia.
UWSNT coach Jill Ellis and goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris traveled to the country late last year to advocate for women’s soccer, part of the #GROWTHEGAME movement. While in Liberia, Ellis and Harris spent their time visiting Monrovia Football Academy, doing a little coaching and training and sharing their experiences with sports and what soccer has contributed to their own lives. Harris spoke positively of the trip, calling the experience “life-changing” and speaking of the way the Football Academy uses the sport of soccer “to break down gender barriers, improve academic performance, and produce well-rounded leaders.” The message is clear: Liberia loves soccer, and soccer is far more than just a sport to its people.
However, on the national team level as well as the club level the sport is under-organized, both in terms of administrative support as well as the field training. American Lani Fortier, who was invited to play with the previous iteration of the women’s professional league in Liberia after “a local coach spotted her kicking a ball around with friends,” recalled in 2011 that:
I spent most of my career as a Lady Pro Anchor pretty confused. […] A bus would show up and be like, ‘We have a game today.’ Really? It’s 2 o’clock on a Wednesday, but okay.
An “informal” practice of the women’s national team takes place in a town square, Paul Coover shares, on a dirt field with traffic sometimes interrupting play and only a single ball after one is punctured by a rusty goal’s old support post. And after, “the practice the girls all head their separate ways. They do not have plans for when to practice next, and no games are scheduled.”
But, still, women and soccer persist in the nation. In 2016, after a two-year absence, the Liberia Football Association resurrected a women’s league with roots stretching back to the 1980s and featuring eight clubs with names like Earth Angels, Island Queens, Senior Professional Sisters, World Girls, and my personal favorite, Determined Girls. According to Brooks, the new season is scheduled to begin in March, when the Earth Angels will defend their 2016 title.
Of course, the state of play in Liberia is not without problems. Problems that seem all-too-familiar to fans of women’s soccer across the world. As Martina Brooks writes in August of 2016, female sports and leagues in the nation suffer from a lack of perceived “commercial value,” low pay that results in players leaving the sport long before their time, inconsistent support compared to the men’s teams and players, and a failure to attract attention from press which, in turn, translates to an inability to build fanbases or followings. In our correspondence, Brooks added that financial issues and lack of practice and playing equipment hamper the development of play and the growth of players in the country.
In the past, FIFA has been underwhelmed by the attention that women’s soccer and the development of women’s soccer has received by the country. In 2013, the sport’s global governing body sent a consultant to the country in order to “help the local body identify social-cultural barriers that work against the growth of female soccer and how to remove or lessen their influence.” FIFA’s Financial Assistance Program has budgeted substantial funds for Women’s football in Liberia over the past several years, and also assisted in building a technical center, renovating the national stadium, and more for the country. So attention is being given not only to the growth of soccer in the nation, but to the development specifically of “grassroots football and youth football and women’s football.”
But the problem, it seems, is that anytime progress is close, the system of women’s soccer (even soccer in general) disassembles, whether by war, by disease, or disinterest from those charged with overseeing the development of the women’s game. Danesius Marteh, writing for LiberianSoccer.com, shared a quote from Musa Bility on the Liberia Football Association’s responsibility to female players:
We have no obligation to female clubs. Even under the FAP where we are told to spend a certain amount of that money on female football, your understanding or the lack of it of that statement should not lead you into blending us as not supporting female clubs.
And just last year, Rochelle Woodson, who was a member of the Liberia Football Association’s Executive Committee, and who once said that a “women[‘s] football league in Liberia can get bigger and grow” with a focus on “sponsorship and individual motivation,” was removed from her position (reportedly due to her absence while on maternity leave).
Woodson had previously suggested that the LFA was in the process of trying to organize “a school league of female soccer,” a movement which the head of the Women’s Football Committee within the LFA seems to have confirmed is moving forward with plans to bring the sport to girls in schools across the nation. Ciata Bishop has said that
“We need more female players, more female referees, more ball girls, as well as female medics and to archive our goals we want to reach out to the counties and identified girls who have passion for the game and see how we can train and develop them.”
Women’s soccer in Liberia is a story with many twists and turns, with chapters that seem empty and others that seem cut off too soon. But right now, with Bishop’s leadership on the Women Football Committee and representing Liberia at FIFA Women’s Football development events, there is much to hope for.
As Bishop herself says, responding to Liberia’s invitation to the 2017 FIFA Female Leadership Development Program taking place earlier this month (beginning on February 6, 2017), “We now have a voice.”
We at Backline Soccer can’t wait to see how they use it.
Liberia Women’s National Team Information:
Association: Liberia Football Association
Confederation: Confederation of African Football (CAF)
Sub-Confederation: West African Football Union (WAFU)
Current FIFA Ranking: 135 (High: 92, 2009; Low: 144, 2007)
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