Monday, 12 November 2012

Equatorial Guinea, gender, nationality and human rights: Why Banyana's final demise deserves closer scrutiny

Double trouble: Genoveva Anonma, who scored twice against Banyana

BANYANA BANYANA’S epic attempt to lift the CAF Women’s crown may have come to an abrupt halt when they lost to hosts Equatorial Guinea 4-0 yesterday – but look under the veneer of a one-sided final and you'll find there are a couple of very good reasons for their failure to lift the continental crown.

The “women” who lifted the female African Cup of Nations in Malabo might be worth closer scrutiny following repeated questions over their gender and nationality.

My problem with Equatorial Guinea does not start with their women’s team. During the African Cup of Nations – generally the natural domain of male footballers – in January, I wrote this explaining how the oil-rich nation works.

Although the second-smallest African UN member’s GDP is $35,000 per person, two-thirds of the population lives on less than $1 a day with a tiny elite living the high life.

In a notoriously undemocratic country scandalously low on human rights and poverty indexes, the Equatorial Guinea FA have been known to move the goalposts before – passports are granted to overseas players, birth certificates are altered and huge bonuses are paid to their footballers while the large majority of the nation starves.

At one point during AFCON2012, the team overseen by Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangu – the Equatoguinean president’s son - fielded NOT ONE player born in Africa’s “richest” nation as they turned to heroes born in Brazil, Liberia, Spain and Cameroon in a tournament hostly jointly with Gabon.

But when it comes to the women’s game – where NINE of the team were foreign-born - something really dodgy lurks beneath the surface. The tiny nation’s inexplicable rise up the women’s rankings may just have been achieved using MEN.

According to in 2010, during the last women’s AFCON in South Africa, the Equatorians were forced to drop “sisters” Salimata and Bilguisa Simpore from the team.

Ghana captain Florence Okoe said after her team’s defeat against the former Spanish colony: “It is not as if we are throwing sour grapes, just because we have lost. Rather, this is the fact and it is up to the organizers to do something about this. It is not good for African women’s football.”

And her teammate Diana Ankomah insisted: “You only need to have physical contact with them to know this, and we can tell from what happened most times during the match.”

The side ranked 62 in the FIFA women’s rankings – currently 5th in Africa behind powerhouse Nigeria – simply dropped the rugged “sisters” and carried on. No gender tests were carried out despite promises from CAF after official complaints were made.

FIFA’s response? With Equatorial Guinea pumping millions in to hosting a raft of international tournaments, Sepp Blatter’s people said: "No mandatory or routine gender testing verification examinations will take place at Fifa competitions.

"It lies with each participating member association to prior to the nomination of its national team ensure the correct gender of all players by actively investigating any perceived deviation in secondary sex characteristics and keeping complete documentation of the findings."

In other words: FIFA did NOTHING.

Equatorial Guinea's football federation, Feguifoot, claimed they were being subjected to a "campaign of defamation", adding: "Accusations about the supposed presence of men are totally unfounded. These allegations are being made by groups of people that watch with pessimism the progress made by Equatorial Guinean soccer."

Genoveva Anonma, who scored twice in yesterday’s final against Banyana and plays professionally for the German club USV Jena, told the BBC that she had already been gender tested after complaints from opponents, which she found "offensive".

South Africa’s team manager in 2010, Fran Hilton-Smith, was quoted at the time saying: "I think they are probably intersex and they think they are girls. That's the aspect that needs to be investigated.

"Fifa has to come up with some specific medical gender tests to establish whether these players are intersex. If they have 100% testosterone that definitely gives them an advantage. They shouldn't be banned but they should be helped."

Equatorial Guinea were also accused of fielding male players in 2008 when they last won the African women's championship. They are still the only country other than far larger near-neighbours Nigeria to win the title.

During this year’s AFCON they won all five games and scored 18 goals while conceding none.

The country’s president Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo overthrew previous dictator Francisco Macías Nguema on 3 August, 1979 in a bloody coup d'état. Since then some 12 unsuccessful coup attempts have occurred.

Equatorial Guinea has one of the worst human rights records in the world, consistently ranking among the "worst of the worst" in Freedom House's annual survey of political and civil rights and Reporters Without 

The press monitoring agency Borders ranks President Obiang among its "predators" of press freedom with the President banning "all political dissent" and appointing his son to the previously unknown role of "second vice president" and granting him diplomatic immunity from legal action being taken against him in France.

The Trafficking in Persons Report 2012 states "Equatorial Guinea is a source and destination for women and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking." The report rates Equatorial Guinea as a "Tier 3" country, the worst ranking.

President Obiang has been in power for 33 years – the longest-serving leader in Africa. Last year he announced plans for a new capital in the country, to be called Djibloho while the majority of his people lack access to electricity or running water.

And in the light of all that, who can blame Banyana for their final denouement or President Jacob Zuma for using state funds to improve Nkandla?

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