Copa Femme Is On A Mission To Bridge The Gender Play Gap In Nigeria

Copa Femme wants more women in sports

Sports has long served as an enjoyable physical activity that brings people together and improves our mental and physical capabilities. However, by the age of just 14, there is already a worrying gap between the number of girls and boys playing sports. According to a recent UK survey, girls are two times more likely to drop out of sports than boys.

These barriers to sports can be for a myriad of reasons including lack of access, sexism, sexual harassment or abuse, and more. When intersections such as Black and African are factored into these barriers, these numbers could potentially become even more staggering. While there is no readily quantifiable data in these parts, you need only look at the way that way our society guides both men and women into various acceptable gender norms. These days, these norms are being questioned more than ever before, and we’re coming into times where female athletes are leading the charge on a global stage.

As a result of this, many organisations and companies catered to improving and sustaining female participation in sports have popped in the past few years. It is in this environment that Copa Femme, a non-profit foundation in Nigeria wants to bridge the gender play gap in Nigeria.


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Formed back in March 2019 by co-founders and friends, Demi Filani and Damilola Sofidiya on International Women’s Day, the women-led foundation has been on a mission to increase female participation in sports–just for the fun of it. Focusing on the lighthearted nature of sports and having a good time rather unhealthy competition, the foundation provides a space for women to gather and play games such as football and basketball without the fear of social stigma.

“I formed it by accident,” Demi Filani tells me over the phone, just days to the foundation’s third football competition in Lagos. “I think I sent a tweet asking who wants to play football cause I was in Lagos at the time and I wanted to play football.ed to play football. So I asked if there were any girls that were interested in playing football. The outcome I got was a lot and so many girls responded. After that moment, I thought I might as well start a competition to try and celebrate talented women in sports.” From their first event, right through to now, the team over at Copa Femme have championed the act of having fun and making mistakes in a safe environment.

Each year, Copa Femme raises money through donations and price tickets which are then invested into a female-led organisation in the country. In past years, they have donated to Sanitary Aid Nigeria, a non-profit organisation that provides sanitary products for less privileged women in the country. This year, the foundation will be hosting its third event since its inception in Lekki, Nigeria with all the profits from the event going to Vista Hospital.

Ahead of the games, we spoke to co-founder Demi Filani about Copa Femme’s vision, the need for more recreational facilities in Nigeria and what still needs to be done to bridge the gender play gap.

Our conversation which follows below has been lightly edited for clarity.


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NATIVE: What are the main goals of a foundation such as Copa Femme?

Demi: Our four goals were to break the stereotype of girls in sports, to raise money for charity, to celebrate talented girls in sports and make people have fun. In breaking the stereotype of girls in sports, there are different stereotypes of women and in the sports industry, there are so many. So we felt like if we were making girls come out to play sports, we had to create a space where they felt welcome, comfortable and encouraged to play and make mistakes.

Here, stereotypes don’t hold women back. If we celebrate them, that will encourage them to play more and encourage them to carry on with their dream. And also to make them feel like there are people rooting for them. Also, all the money that we make from gate fee, we give to charity organisations that we reach out to before the events. And to make people have fun in a good setting where they are watching sports, there are different games happening around such as chess.

NATIVE: How are you actively working to bridge the gender play gap in your own way?

Demi: The gender play gap in sports is a lot. When I first started to do research about women in sports, it was quite alarming finding out about why certain stereotypes were upheld and how unfairly women are treated in sports. I’ve always been a sports fan right from high school until now in univeristy and I must say that it’s not gotten any better for female players. There’s a visible difference between when there’s a football match for men and women. Things such as encouragement and attendance are so vastly different for the two groups. However, I feel like if we don’t start from somewhere then there is no way we can get better and if we don’t begin to encourage, support, and advocate for women then things won’t get better.

I am sure there are different organisations that will definitely start-up in the coming years. It doesn’t have to be just me. The more women that come up to do these things, the more encouraging and the more spotlight we will get collectively. I’ve faced opposition for centering just women in these competitions but that would always be my focus when I know how marginalised we are in the industry. For them to be alarmed that people are doing something like this shows that there is a gender play gap.

“You can recognise women and validate them in the sports they do.”

NATIVE: Tell me about your first event. What were some of the highlights from that time?

Demi: During our first tournament, I was very impressed with the participation from all the women involved. I thought they would be shy at first but they were very much interested and they all seemed happy to be there. The atmosphere was also very inviting and encouraging so people wanted to stay and play. We sold out our tickets and had to start using markers on fingernails to be sure people paid to come in. The second highlight was Buju’s performance. At the time, he was just coming up so everyone was excited to see him perform. Also, the girls that won, the way they danced after collecting their awards, I just felt so excited and fulfilled. I had done something special and put a smile on people’s faces.

NATIVE: How do you strike the balance between healthy and unhealthy competition?

Demi: I feel like with women, they just want everyone to win. At the first event, there was no tension between teams because it all seemed that even if you win, I don’t mind as long as we are all having fun. It didn’t seem competitive and I didn’t feel the heat. The contestants felt more comfortable with each other and they felt this is something new and we’re helping other women who need our help.


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NATIVE: How is Copa Femme funded?

Demi: We are funded by sponsorships and endorsements mostly. We just reach out to brands and sponsors and hope that they trust our vision and want to bridge the gender play gap. When we first started Copa Femme, it wasn’t about the money or keeping any of the money, we all knew it was going directly to charity. I just wanted to play ball at the time and so whatever money we make, we gave it to any charity organisation we had in mind. However, due to the pandemic this year, we didn’t get as much sponsorship as we would like but we made enough for the event to hold this year. Our core sponsor for this year is Tangerine and they’ve been able to help with things we need help with many aspects of the competition including donating the 140,000 naira prize fund.

NATIVE: What can we expect from the Copa Femme tournament this year?

Demi: Lots of fun. The basketball and the football games, we’re going to have two winners this year. Lots of fun, lots of games. This is the second-ever physical event but last year, during the pandemic, we had an online tournament where we had women freestyle in whatever sports they could do. So for example, we had women jogging the basketball or dribbling and we awarded prize awards to them. It was just based more on likes and comments.

Tennis is something I am interested in but next year, I am interested in a full women’s sports day where there are different races and games but just for women alone. There will be different houses and they’ll compete for challenges. Next year, I am looking at a sports day of this kind.

Featured image credits/Courtesy of Copa Femme

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