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Yakubu Sarma: We must encourage girls in the north to play football

The chairman of the Gombe State Football Association, Hon. Philibus Yakubu Sarma, has said most of the girls in northern Nigeria are immensely talented and…

The chairman of the Gombe State Football Association, Hon. Philibus Yakubu Sarma, has said most of the girls in northern Nigeria are immensely talented and must be encouraged to play football. In this interview with Trust Sports, the football administrator spoke on the factors militating against female football in the north, how the State FA is developing football in Gombe, the challenges, the relationship with the NFF and efforts being made to help Gombe United escape relegation at the end of the current NPFL season.

What is your Football Association (FA) doing to develop the sport in Gombe state?

When we came on board, there were a lot of issues. But by the grace of God, we were able to come up with useful programmes that have stabilised the system. We have initiated training programmes for referees and grassroots coaches in collaboration with the local football councils. We also have so many age-grade or grassroots football competitions that are organised by the FA and other individuals. There is the U-13, U-17, Emirate Cup and many other competitions for the youths. There is no month that passes in Gombe without a local football competition. It is all year round football in the state.

What are the challenges faced by the FA in carrying out its assignment?

One of the major challenges is getting sponsorship for our numerous activities. Football development is capital intensive but getting individuals and corporate bodies to sponsor our programmes has not been easy. Once in a while, they complement our efforts but the government should do more so that we can get the best out of our youths.

Gombe State boasts of two NPFL clubs, Gombe United and Doma United, how happy are you?

So far, so good, in the north as a whole, it is only Gombe State that can boast of having two NPFL clubs. And in the entire north east, it is only in Gombe you can watch premier league matches. So, we walk with our shoulders high. That is why we are doing everything possible to save Gombe United from relegation.

In concrete terms, what is the FA and other stakeholders doing to keep Gombe United in the NPFL?

The case of Gombe United is really sad. It is unfortunate that we have found ourselves in this situation. But with 13 games to go, anything can happen. By the grace of God, they can win all home matches and pick some points away and come out of relegation. Gombe United play good football but somehow they have found themselves in this precarious situation. But all hands are now on the deck. We are doing everything possible to boost the morale of the players, the management and even the supporters, so that together we can do what we are supposed to do to save Gombe United. We can’t afford to lose Gombe United to relegation.

How does the FA manage the rivalry between Gombe United and Doma United?

I really want to thank the management of the two clubs. They have shown maturity. A healthy rivalry exists between the two clubs in the sense it brings out the best in each of them. As an FA, we are always meeting with them to ensure there is good understanding. We try to see how they can relate as brothers. That is why when Gombe hosted Doma United in the first round, we recorded the largest crowd but there was no ugly incident. I may not be wrong to say that since the inauguration of the Pantami Stadium, that was the day it was filled to the brim.  We had over 18,000 spectators but we made sure the match was hitch-free. We are working towards achieving the same result this weekend. At times, there is tension and agitations but we don’t allow any situation to get out of hand.

To what extent is the NFF supporting activities of Gombe State FA?

Gombe FA is not operating in isolation. Since we are running association football, the kind of support we are getting from the NFF is the same as what is given to the other 35 states and the FCT. However, I have to mention that the present leadership of the NFF has been of immense help. Whenever we have a programme, they align with us to make it a success. Not too long, we organised a coaching seminar and the NFF was supportive. The Technical Director of the NFF came all the way to Gombe with all the technical staff and some national figures to conduct the coaching seminar. When the NFF CAF-D course was being held, the NFF magnanimously helped us to sponsor some of our people. And when it comes to grassroots football development, we liaise with those in charge at the NFF. The NFF is doing its best in terms of relating well with the state FAs. It may interest you to know that the NFF president, Ibrahim Musa, has created an office that deals directly with all member associations, and this is making things so easy for all the affiliates. 

What would you say are the reasons for the seeming apathy towards female football in the North?

Female football is one area that is having serious issues as far as the entire north is concerned. But as I have said earlier, it is not only female football that is having issues in the north. The entire cycle of sports in the north is suffering in the hands of administrators and other reasons that have to do with ethnicity, religion and cultural practices. In most places in the north, females are not encouraged to play football because of their religious inclination. If you take away Nasarawa State that has Nasarawa Amazons in the NWFL, then Benue State where Barrister Paul Edeh is managing Honey Badgers and Adamawa Queens, there are no prominent female clubs in the north in the NWFL. Even Plateau State and Kaduna State do not have female clubs in the league. So, apart from lack of sponsorship, female football in the north is being held back by religious and socio-cultural beliefs.

What is Gombe FA doing to change the narrative?

In Gombe, we have made efforts which are already yielding results. At the moment, we have Jewel queens who are still playing local football. We are trying to see how we can develop the girls so that in future, they can go professional. So, for now we have a team that is just starting. We want to see how we can get support to actualise this dream.

What is your appeal to other football stakeholders in the North concerning female football?

I want to call on states in the north to pay more attention to female football. We can do more for the girls. I challenge the FA Chairmen in the north to scout for hidden talents. Kano, Katsina, Jigawa, Yobe, Borno State can have female clubs. In Saudi Arabia and UAE, they play female football so we have no reason not to play female football in the north. Let us encourage talented girls in the north to play female football. They are talented and if given the opportunity, the sky will be their limit.


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