Senegal national team captain Safiétou Sagna is relishing the changing perception of female footballers in her country following their impressive showing at the recent TotalEnergies Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (WAFCON) in Morocco.
The France-based player led her country to reach the knock-out stages of the tournament in the North African country two months ago only to be eliminated by Zambia in a tightly contested match.
Since returning from the continent’s flagship women’s competition, attitudes towards women playing the game are beginning to shift after they reached the quarter-final at the tournament in July.
The path to success and acceptance has not been easy for Sagna and her teammates, having fought societal stereotypes to be accepted as footballers.
“Things have really evolved. It has been a constant fight but more than the reception on the return of the WAFCON, it is the decision of certain parents to come to us to ask for advice for their daughters which brings me the most pleasure,” explained the captain of the Lionesses in an interview with CAFOnline.com.
“A long way has been covered when I remember my fear when I had to go play football. We were seen as tomboys and failed girls,” said the former player of Casa Sports who is in her second season at French side Bourges.
“We must continue to fight so that all girls can do the sport of their choice. We can be proud of ourselves, our sisters and especially our daughters will no longer need to hide to play football.
The WAFCON played in Morocco marked the return of Senegal to the tournament after a ten-year absence and the midfielder who started her career in 2011 believes that ‘the Lionesses succeeded in the competition’.
“We had a good WAFCON, we scored our first goal in the final phase of WAFCON, got our first victory and for the first time in history, Senegal qualified in the second round of a women’s tournament. This was not an easy task,” she said, indicating that Senegal has high hopes of qualifying for the 2023 Women’s World Cup through the play-offs.
“Overall, there is reason to be satisfied even if there is also a regret that we missed the qualification to the semi-final against Zambia – a team we could have beaten,” she said.
“It’s a shame because against the Zambian team we opened the scoring. This defeat on penalties stuck in our throats, but we will use this experience to prepare for future competitions. It’s a good lesson,” she said.
Safiétou Sagna who, after Casa Sports, played for the Ameth Fall high school team in Saint-Louis and for the US Parcelles Assainies, also thinks that “Senegal lacked experience and concentration because of the many young players in the squad during the competition.
“What pleases the most, the future belongs to us. Morocco, the finalists, had problems against Senegal. We have to manage the emotional aspect,” she said.
In 10 years, women’s football has improved a lot in Senegal particularly at the organizational level with competitions for the youth national teams of U17 and U20.
Sagna added that as the girls manage to play very early and to gain experience they will be ready to conquer Africa and the world.
“The development of the girls is progressive with periodic camping over a long period which has allowed them to work well and put a philosophy”, she said, welcoming the posture of the FSF.
Referring to high-level football and the life of women in Senegalese society, the player of Bourges recognizes that “it is very difficult to reconcile the two”.
“In our society, many continue to think that women should stay at home to manage their household and leave football to men and fortunately our performances are starting to change people’s minds,” she hastened to clarify.
“Parents and loved ones are beginning to understand that it is our passion and for some their livelihood.
“Some players are married and football does not alter their life as a couple and their sports career because they continue to play at a high level and manage their household well.
“But it remains a permanent fight for our youngest ones, perhaps our daughters who must be able to fully experience their passion”, she said, insisting on the fact that “football is not opposed to life as a married person, to be a woman and to assume her role in society”.
“And of course I am seriously thinking about marriage and starting a family and I promise you that my marriage is not very far.
“High-level football is very demanding and frankly, it’s not a cakewalk but since girls manage to do it why not me and the others.
“It is very possible especially if you are lucky enough to have understanding relatives, in particular your spouse who supports you in your activities.
“There are a lot of prejudices but mentalities have changed a lot and recent performances have contributed a lot to this.
“When you decide to play football, you have to agree to continue to work well at school, to do housework before going to the field,” she said, indicating that for her, things changed when she was called up for the national team and when she made a transfer to France.
The captain of the Lionesses who has made 42 appearances for the national team since 2011 says even though she will continue in the game when she retires from her playing career, she wants to enter in football management to help the next generation of players.
“I want to help our daughters and our sisters to make good career choices”, said Sgana who now combines her playing career with studying football management in Bourges.