In this revitalised conversation with FIFA.com, Namibia’s football coach-cum-administrator and renowned Fifa instructor Jacqueline “Jacque” Shipanga speaks passionately about the evolution of women football and provides an insight into the development of the game in her home
Falling in love with football
Shipanga was just a girl back at the beginning of the 1980s when she would run through the dusty streets of Okahandja with a tennis racket in her hand, looking for other children to play with. Though the racket was wooden and showing plenty of signs of use, that did not stop her from wanting to emulate the stars of the time, the likes of Martina Navratilova, Jennifer Capriati and Steffi Graf.
However, playing tennis was no easy feat for Shipanga as the tennis courts where she lived were reserved for the advantaged and elite population of that time, but luckily for Shipanga, her four brothers were passionate about a sport that took place on a larger and more accessible playing field – football – and Jacque was soon bitten by the bug.
That football is so open is one of the things that Shipanga loves about it. “Football is a sport for one and all, for the rich and poor alike,” she explains. “It is a team sport, and all you need is a ball and at grass roots level in particular, it can unite girls and boys.”
Becoming the poster-girl of Namibia football
Over the years, Shipanga rose to become captain and then coach of Namibia’s senior women’s side, the Brave Gladiators, making a name for herself and going on to inspire thousands of young girls from all over her country. After her playing days, Jacque dedicated her life and time to the development of the game at home and to the upliftment of the Namibian girl child through football.
Today, she is the head of the Namibia Football Association (NFA) women’s department, having graduated from the Fifa Master programme. Promoting the sport is her new passion, and one that instantly came across at the Technical Experts’
Workshop in Doha some years back, where she spoke animatedly about the experiences that she has had.
She declared herself satisfied with the development of the game at youth level, and rightly so – since the “NFA Galz & Goals” programme was introduced in 2009, football has become the most popular sport in the country among girls. The figures speak for themselves; 20 000 girls were involved in the programme, 12 regional leagues created at U-13, U-17 level, a national championship is also held every year, at senior level Shipanga sees room for improvement.
Challenges facing women football
“A 16-year-old women’s player will get to feature in two qualifying matches for the Fifa U-17 Women’s World Cup. If the team then doesn’t get through, her next international match won’t be for another two or three years, when qualifying comes around for the U-20 tournament,” says Shipanga.
She sees South Africa as an example to follow in terms of what can be achieved with the right motivation. “Their national association is one of the few in Africa that has invested significant sums in women’s football and which is purposely committing to improve and further develop the game,” she says in a tone that displays her level of admiration.
She is also delighted that Fifa is being so supportive and showing the way forward – by means of workshops and also the Fifa Forward Programme, which is helping to strengthen not only women’s football but also the role that female staff can play throughout the various national associations.
“Our women players have not only had a successful career in football, but have also gone on to become highly employable,” she said proudly.
Another highlight for Shipanga has been seeing first-hand is the exchange of information and expertise and how it has helped the national associations to advance.
“Countries such as Gambia, Zambia and Zimbabwe and many others, which I visited as part of Fifa development programmes, then went on to qualify for World Cups or Olympic Games within two or three years,” she explained.
Invading the global arena…
A Fifa instructors’ course in Madrid, which saw her meet the likes of Hope Powell and Betty Wong, helped Shipanga get a better perspective of the importance of the part that she plays in this development process and appreciates the importance of strong personalities who can lead and inspire.
“The need to share information and expertise became a real priority for me,” she adds. The girl who once scoured the streets of Okahandja with a tennis racket has grown up to become a woman who loves football with a passion, who plays and coaches, trains others in how to coach and happily passes on her experiences.
She has made it her aim to strengthen the development of women’s football in her home country, and the way she summarises how she lives her life, in general, is a perfect illustration of her commitment to the sport she has chosen. “We should not be proud of what we do for ourselves, but of what we do for others.” – FIFA.com