‘Aesthetics over athletics’ in women’s sport coverage

‘Aesthetics over athletics’ in women’s sport coverage 150 150 CWESN

Let’s start here at home. After Tomas Walsh won bronze in the men’s shot put, the New Zealand Herald headlined its story with “Walsh becomes first Kiwi to medal in Olympic field event”.

That’s unless you count Valerie Adams just a week ago. Or, in fact, Yvette Williams, New Zealand’s first ever woman Olympic gold medallist, and long jump world record holder from February 1954 to September 1955. Walsh is the first New Zealand man to win a medal in the Olympic field events. The Herald corrected their mistake quickly.

The Chicago Tribune has been widely criticised for a tweet, in which they referred to three-time Olympian Corey Cogdell-Unrein not by her name or her achievements, but as the “wife of a Bears’ lineman”.

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The newspaper later apologised, saying Cogdell-Unrein is “awesome on her own” and that they “focused too hard on trying to emphasize the local connection [she] has to Chicago”.

The Tribune wasn’t the only one to get in trouble on Twitter. After Netherlands cyclist Annemiek van Vleuten crashed in the road race, she tweeted to say she had some injuries and fractures but would be fine. “Most of all super disappointed after best race of my career.”

In a now-deleted Tweet, “Martin A Betancourt” replied “first lesson in bicycling, keep your bike steady… whether fast or slow”. That prompted choruses of “mate, she’s an Olympic cyclist. She probably already knows”.

American swimmer Michael Phelps is retiring with 28 medals, the most decorated Olympian of all time. So he’s pretty good headline fodder. Still, you’d think Katie Ledecky – herself a five-time medallist – smashing her own record in the 800 metres freestyle could get her top billing.

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Cambridge University analysed millions of words relating to men and women, and how they’re described at the Olympics.

“Language around women in sport focuses disproportionately on the appearance, clothes and personal lives of women,” they found, “highlighting a greater emphasis on aesthetics over athletics.”

It also found that the words used for men’s sport include more dominant words, like “mastermind”, “win” and “battle,” where women “strive” and “participate”.

That’s nothing on the BBC commentator who referred to a women’s judo final as a “catfight”.

(Here at RNZ, we also called a woman gymnast’s moves “sassy,” so we are not above criticism.)

The US’ Dana Vollmer won two gold medals in the pool at the Olympics – and just 17 months after giving birth to her son. The toll pregnancy and childbirth take on a woman’s body, and coming back from that to perform at the highest level, means that is a relevant thing to mention – just maybe not in every single headline. In the Sevens final, the Sky Sport commentator also referred to one of New Zealand’s players as “the only mother in the team”.

Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszu broke the world record when she won the 400 metre individual medley. In a possible attempt to praise her coach and husband, Shane Tusup, NBC‘s Dan Hicks referred to him as “the man responsible” for her performance.

As South Africa’s Sunette Viljoen threw for the gold medal in the javelin (she won silver), the commentator was less interested in her performance and more on how it would make her coach feel. “She’s got a silver medal, but now he’s got a chance for gold. Now, can Viljoen take this home to South Africa? It’d make a very happy man in Terseus Liebenberg, you can be sure.”

Spare a thought for the US’ Gabby Douglas. She didn’t have a great Games, winning the gold medal in the team event, but failing to defend her 2012 all-around title. She received criticism for not placing her hand on her heart during the anthem, her hair and for failing to smile enough. She’s even been called “crabby Gabby”.

Beach volleyball has always been a controversial Olympic sport. In 2012, then-London Mayor Boris Johnson talked about “semi-naked women playing volleyball in the middle of the Horse Guards Parade immortalised by Canaletto… glistening like wet otters”.

At Rio, the talking point was around Egyptian athlete Doaa Elghobashy wearing a long-sleeved uniform and hijab.

The internet was quick to point out Elghobashy chooses to wear the hijab. She told AP “I have worn the hijab for 10 years… It doesn’t keep me away from the things I love to do, and beach volleyball is one of them.”

Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhui has been one of the stars of Rio, thanks, in part, to her incredibly meme-worthy reaction to finding out she had won a bronze medal.

But the swimmer also won hearts when she apologised for not swimming well enough. Her reason? She had her period. “It’s because my period came yesterday, so I felt particularly tired.”

“Someone accused Fu of lying, asking how she could have gone in the water on her period,” the BBC reports Weibo user Dvingnew as writing. Her statement has opened a door to an important conversation.

A shout-out to Andy Murray though. The tennis player was speaking to the BBC’s John Inversdale who said, “You’re the first person ever to win two Olympic tennis gold medals. That’s an extraordinary feat isn’t it?”

Murray replied, “Well, to defend the singles title. I think Venus and Serena have won about four each, But haven’t defended the singles title before, so yeah, it’s obviously not an easy thing to do.”

* This story has been edited as it incorrectly suggested Beatrice Faumuina won gold in an Olympics at Athens in 1997. She did win gold at the Athletics World Championships in Athens that year.

AFLW: Media coverage of women’s competition ‘almost inconceivable’

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Damian McIvor –

The media success of the new women’s AFL competition is “almost inconceivable” and the game has broken new ground where netball and soccer could not, an expert says.

The opening round of the inaugural league attracted more than 1.7 million viewers nationally across Friday and Saturday night on free-to-air-television, while more than 50,000 fans attended the four games in Melbourne and Adelaide.

“It is really amazing,” media analyst Dr Kate Greenwood said.

“How they have used the media really intelligently to engage the audience, how they have worked with broadcasters to get it on prime time and also for the audience to watch that in record numbers.”

Dr Greenwood was the co-author of a study into the Australian media’s coverage of women’s sport in 2010. The report, Towards a level playing field: sport and gender in Australian media, was conducted on behalf of the Australian Sports Commission, and found women sport accounted for less than 10 per cent of all sports coverage across the country.

“It was a finding that I don’t think necessarily surprised everyone, but it was quite sobering,” she said.

“It was this sort of dead-lock or chicken and the egg scenario, where athletes’ profiles are simply lower, media outlets are not necessarily going to send their journalists to games if they are not sure the audience exists.”

Dr Greenwood said there had been “piece-meal” progress made by netball, soccer and other codes in recent years, but nothing like what she has witnessed with women’s AFL.

“It was almost inconceivable … getting broadcasters to take the risk to show the sport, and then of course engaging all the fans and supporters as well. This is really the dream scenario,” she said.

Build for sustainable competition, not short-term success

It is also a dream scenario for television broadcasters Seven and Foxtel, who have signed a two-year broadcast deal with the league to broadcast the games, without having to pay any rights fees.

While the early success of the competition has come as a surprise to many, those who have worked closely with the women’s code say its potential has long been evident.

“I was not surprised with what we ended up with [on the weekend],” Chyloe Kurdas, a former women’s football manager with AFL Victoria, said.

“We have always known that we were sort of sitting on a gold mine with female football, and it was just a matter of convincing everyone that they had a gold mine there waiting for them.”

Ms Kurdas is convinced the league can eventually expand to 18 teams with fully-paid professional footballers, but she said the growth needed to be managed.

“We don’t want an amazing competition for two years but we overinvest and then by year three we have run out of money,” she said.

“You want to make sure that we are building something that is sustainable and we want this to be around for 100 years.”

WoLF Scoring with Social Media

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Media coverage of women’s sport is something that most women’s sport organizations struggle with globally.

With a little innovation though, Women’s Football League Media manager, Jinelle James effectively combatted that issue through social media.

“One of the major highlights of the league this season has been the use of social media; facebook and twitter, to drive engagement of the league,” said James. “Through these mediums a lot of networking took place which greatly benefitted the league and brought greater awareness about women’s football and our players.

James’ efforts included timely score updates of daily matches, photos that she took her self, fixture updates, short video highlights of the matches as well as interviews with players.

In addition to media efforts, the Japs sponsored league also held a boat cruise to raise funds during the season.

This years’ competition also saw the inclusion of players from St Vincent and Puerto for the first time. James explained that this not only provided the opportunity for players from other Caribbean islands to play at a much higher level than if they were at home, but it also helped to raise the quality of competition in the league here.

Also coming out of the league for the first time was the ability of U20 players to vie for selection on the national team. “The League has helped to give players who would not normally be seen an opportunity to vie for a spot on the Women’s National U-20 Team,” explained James. “In the preliminary round of the Women’s U-20 World Cup Qualifiers, 50% of the team came from the League in, Shuntele Baptiste, Otisha David, Leah Pope, Chelsea Gibbs, Asha Jones, Jennette Wilson, Tkeyah Phillip, Akilah Sparks and Rhonique Alexander.

Additionally, it was found that three teams consisted of players who averaged 14 years of age. The discovery James said, prompted league officials to introduce an U15 and U17 league which will serve as a breeding ground for senior teams, which she hopes will partner with the younger teams.

James explained that a competitive league plays a huge role in the development of women’s football and the WoLF is definitely doing its part with regard to providing an opportunity for players to be selected on the various national teams.

T&T hoping to take back what’s theirs

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West Indies skipper, Merissa Aguilleira will lead T&T as they try to regain their position as regional champs in the WICB Women’s Regional Tournament from August 8-18, in Jamaica.

Jamaica ended T&T’s two-year reign last year, with a 30-run victory in the final of the competition.

The hosts, will hope to regain their title in front of their home crowd in the round robin competition, which will feature 8 teams including; Jamaica, T&T, Barbados, Dominica, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada and Guyana

Speaking before T&T left for Jamaica, Aguilleira said the team’s preparations have gone extremely well and they are confident about bringing home the title.

“I think we are pretty confident about everything. As a team we played a lot of cricket and we are excited and looking forward to continuing our progress,” she said.

As for T&T’s batting, which failed them last year, the wicket-keeper said it was an area the team has been focusing on.

“We have been doing a lot of batting and have really concentrated on that particular area. We have seen an improvement and all we can do is hope everything comes together as planned.”

T&T’s batting will be strengthened by the addition of former Barbados and WI player, Deandra Dottin. Aguilleira explained however, T&T will not be depending on Deandra’s batting alone, and solid performances by the entire team are needed if they are to win the tournament.

The competition will see a change in format this year, with the usual 50-over competition being replaced with a T20 version.

The change was made as part of the WI women’s preparations for the T20 World Cup, which takes place in September. The WI will then leave for England in early September where they will play 5 T20s.


August 8

Trinidad & Tobago (T&T) vs St. Vincent & the Grenadines (SVG) at Kensington Park, 10 a.m.

Jamaica vs St. Lucia at Kensington Park, 2 p.m.

Guyana vs Grenada at Chedwin Park, 10 a.m.

Barbados vs Dominica at Chedwin Park, 2 p.m.

August 9

Barbados vs Jamaica at Kensington Park, 10 a.m.

Guyana vs T&T at Kensington Park, 2 p.m.

SVG vs Grenada at Chedwin Park, 10 a.m.

Dominica vs St. Lucia at Chedwin Park, 2 p.m.

August 11

St. Lucia vs Grenada at Kensington Park, 10 a.m.

SVG vs Dominica at Kensington Park, 2 p.m.

T&T vs Barbados at Chedwin Park, 10 a.m.

Jamaica vs Guyana at Chedwin Park, 2 p.m.

August 12

St. Lucia vs SVG at Kensington Park, 10 a.m.

Grenada vs Dominica at Kensington Park, 2 p.m.

Guyana vs Barbados at Chedwin Park, 10 a.m.

T&T vs Jamaica at Chedwin Park, 2 p.m.

August 14

St. Lucia vs T&T at Kensington Park, 10 a.m.

SVG vs Jamaica at Kensington Park, 2 p.m.

Grenada vs Barbados at Chedwin Park, 10 a.m.

Dominica vs Guyana at Chedwin Park, 2 p.m.

August 15

Grenada vs T&T at Kensington Park, 10 a.m.

SVG vs Guyana at Kensington Park, 2 p.m.

Dominica vs Jamaica at Chedwin Park, 10 a.m.

Barbados vs St. Lucia at Chedwin Park, 2 p.m.

August 17

Dominica vs T&T at Kensington Park, 10 a.m.

Barbados vs SVG at Kensington Park, 2 p.m.

Guyana vs St. Lucia at Chedwin Park, 10 a.m.

Jamaica vs Grenada at Chedwin Park, 2 p.m.


August 18

3rd vs 4th at Sabina Park, 10 a.m.

1st vs 2nd at Sabina Park, 2 p.m.

7th vs 8th at Kensington Park, 10 a.m.

5th vs 6th at Kensington Park, 2 p.m.

Sands Disturbed

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There’s a saying that goes ‘getting to the top is easy, but staying there is the challenge.’

Misty Mae Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings have never heard this saying! Surely, they never have! The saying has probably never heard of them either.

As fellow American beach volleyball player, April Ross put it; their accomplishments are “just ridiculous”.

Having British big wigs, like Prince Harry, David Beckham and British Prime Minister, David Cameron among others, buying advanced tickets to cheer you on pretty much says it all. 

And it’s not that the teams they face are ‘bad’, they are just REALLY good!

London marked their third consecutive and final Olympic gold medal win and it was truly sad to see the pair depart even at the top of their game. They have been the face of beach volleyball for over a decade. And when I say the face, I mean just that – they are the ambassadors of the sport. The names Misty and Kerri are synonymous with beach volleyball, not just women’s beach volleyball.

To say the American duo has dominated the sport would be an understatement of great proportions.

At one point in their career, they were unbeaten for 108 games, which included their run from Athens to Beijing.

They were feared on the sand, there is definitely no question about that and rarely gave their opponents even the slightest hope of beating them. Chinese duo Xue and Zhang came extremely close in a thrilling Olympic semi-final match which ended 22-20, 22-20. But when you’re Misty and Kerri, there is always that mental edge that has defined their game over the years.

Their decision to compete in London was unexpected and last minute though and thus the reason, they were ranked no. 4 going in, but never underdogs.

Both took sabbaticals from the sport they love to focus on their families after the Beijing Olympics, sending signals that it might have been the end of the US beach volleyball powerhouse.

Walsh had two baby boys and May- Treanor tore her Achilles heel, keeping them both out of the sport for approximately 18 months.

They both took to the sand after with different partners, but it would turn out that neither are any good without each other. May for instance, went winless in 2010 with Nicole Branagh and decided to sit out 2011.

Before the start of the 2011 spring season however, she contacted Walsh about making a comeback and the two began rebuilding their marriage pretty late with the Olympics right there.

But to come back from babies, surgeries and injuries, enter London as the fourth best pair in the world – a position unknown to them – and still cop their third straight Olympic gold medal was outstanding to stay the least.

They know how to win and they don’t just win – they demolish and humiliate their opponents.

It’s a standard that any athlete or team in any sport would do well to duplicate. It’s a standard that has already written history and will remain there forever. The sands will not be the same without these two.

Closing the Gap with Even Pellerud

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With the Olympics a few days away, and the US women looking for revenge against Japan in the football final, talk of whether or not T&T will ever get there looms.

T&T is filled with talented players, the women’s programme has been fortunate enough to have the services of the highly successful women’s coach in Even Pellerud and has even hosted a women’s World Cup. Why then have the national teams failed to make it out of qualification tournaments and in some cases were ousted in the first round?

To get the answer to this question, we went to the man who should be able to answer it, given his portfolio – Technical Director of Women’s football in T&T, Even Pellerud.

Even, we think is the right person to ask, not only because of his current position, but more so in light of his background, having participated twice in Olympic events as a coach – leading Norway in 1996 (Bronze medal in Atlanta) and Canada in 2008 (5th place finish in Beijing).


CWESN: Women’s football has become one of the most competitive Women’s sport across the globe now, why is it that T&T cannot qualify for World Cups and Olympic playoffs, while a small country like Norway and an ice hockey dominated country like Canada can qualify and do well in the Olympic summer games time after time, but Trinidad & Tobago cannot?


His Response:

If a country wants sustainable success in football, only a systematic approach works! Successful football federations take control and develop clear guidelines when it comes to Goal setting, analysis of Consequences and Demands, thus creating a committed Action plan and making sure plans are Implemented. This is a 5 point plan that I find useful as a general guideline for success:


Point 1 


These goals must be built by the National organization. A High performance department is set up. All hiring in the High Performance Environment need to reflect the ambitious goals in this department.

Example: T&T should reach WC/Olympic playoffs on a regular basis (high, but realistic goal)


Point 2.


All parties involved in National teams needs to take on an ownership attitude towards these changes. Changes are painful, but necessary.


Point 3


In this point, details are crucial; training plans, domestic programs, international events, mental training, tactical/technical approach, match analysis, player development, international contacts etc, etc. 


Point 4


Hiring of relevant staff based on competence – corporate sponsorships – reporting lines – support functions – control functions (are we going in the right direction?) – etc 


    Point 5


    The Director is accountable for budget control, mentoring and personnel issues. The Head coach is accountable for the team’s results. Thus the technical staff has full control, but they will also be responsible

    for any failure!


I find that we tend to criticize our athletes; we talk about their lack of passion and the absence of discipline, work ethic and consistency. There is no doubt that we do have problems to solve in these areas. My point is; maybe we as leaders need to change first? If we are not systematic and disciplined, how can we expect the players to be? If the coach is not timely, why do we expect the player to be? If we find excuses for our shortcomings, so will the players. If we are not prepared for international football, how can we prepare the players for it?


If the athletes recognize excellence around them, they will respond – not immediately, but over time they will. The systematic approach that I have outlined above is about transparency, accountability and consistency. When athletes recognize class around them, they will be motivated and respond with class.

Our tendency to go day by day, and make decisions on the go – does not create success, only frustration. Success in sport is about good planning, long-term commitment and stamina.


In conclusion; Although Trinidad & Tobago has a very small population and is lacking in sporting infrastructure, I am convinced that we can reach much higher. Progress can only be achieved by systematic work over time!

Queen Cleopatra

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About a month ago, I had a tourist moment, right here, in my own country, on Independence Square.

I looked up, and staring down at me, was Cleopatra Borel-Brown, perched upon the Excellence City Centre building, being bathed in the light from the mega screen atop KFC on the opposite side.

It was breathtaking – for me at least.

Here was this woman given a throne. It could have been any of T&T’s male athletes or even Kelly-Ann Baptiste, who has been having a stellar 2012 season.

But instead, it was Cleopatra – shot put in hand, about to deliver.

“It’s really difficult to explain how the poster makes me feel,” she said of it. “It makes my family, especially my mom happy, it make me feel a sense of duty to the people of T&T.  I feel so much support and love.”

And why not Cleopatra? She has made three Olympic appearances and is one of the most successful field athletes in the Caribbean.

It must be her year you would think and as the old saying goes; ‘the third time’s the charm’.  2012 was been a spectacular one for the Mayaro resident; she threw a year best 19.42 metres in Paris just last month and followed it up with a 19m throw which earner her a gold medal at the Central American and Caribbean Track and Field Championships in Jamaica, just before heading to London.

In Athens she finished 10th and was 17th in Beijing. In London she will be looking to better those accomplishments as it could very well be her last Olympics at 31-years-of-age and with 10 years of competition under her belt.

She has no firm plans of retirement though.

“I feel as if I’ve done the best that I could have possibly done to prepare for these Games. My prep did not start this year, but I’ve been working very hard for a very long time to get to this point,“ she says.

And by ‘very hard for a very long time’, she means just that.

Shot put is not one of the glorious track events like the 100 metres or 200 metres races. It’s a low-key sport that has not really gotten much attention in T&T save for Cleopatra’s accomplishments.

So back when she started track and field in Mayaro, with her older sister Nathalie, it was definitely not the direction one would go in, expecting to make a living from it.

She started off running, and her father Raymond Borel, encouraged her in the throwing events, but it was not until she moved to the US in 1998 that she really got serious about becoming a professional athlete.

The little girl from the fishing village on the North Coast of Trinidad has not changed much except in size though, and the passion and zeal she first had when she took up the sport has remained with her throughout.

That perhaps is what has made the difference for the Virginia Tech coach – she just loves throwing.

It’s her ‘bread and butter’ and thus her motivation to succeed at times, “At this stage in the game throwing is my job, so if I don’t do well I don’t eat! Luckily, I love throwing so I really love my job,” she explained.

“I feel like I’ve been successful because I really enjoy throw and representing T&T! Hopefully, I’ve done my small part to positively influence the perception of our Country, especially the women.”

It still hasn’t been easy according to her though, as shot put is not as well financed as other track events and so as throwers, you don’t get paid as much. But she remains motivated thanks to the support she gets from her fans and simply being able to represent her country.

“There are a lot of die hard fans of the throwing events; we get each other. I’m also encouraged by a lot of people in T&T who try to understand what I do, and those who appreciate my efforts regardless of their knowledge.”

To young women trying to follow in her footsteps, she simply advises them to take advantage of any opportunities they are presented with, whether it’s abroad or right here in T&T.

“The most important thing is to learn, grow and have fun,” says Cleopatra.

“I try to be a good role model for the youngsters, I encourage them to work hard and have fun.  I let them know that you can find a way to get to your goal. I always tell the kids to set BIG goals and then come up with a plan to get there – set smaller goals that will get u there.  You have to do something Everyday to get where you want to be.”

As for her, she doesn’t look up to any Cleopatra Borel-Browns herself, just “ordinary people who do extra ordinary things – I look up to people like my parents and siblings, teachers who love their kids and coaches that stand in the rain with their athletes.”

Football Roundup

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Living legacy

Two years ago, when T&T hosted the U17 Women’s World Cup, there was talk about a legacy programme for women’s football and T&T becoming the home of women’s football.

Two years later and much controversy after, the legacy would have been lost if not for the efforts of a few dedicated individuals who have kept women’s football alive.

In 2009, Women’s League Football (WoLF) was launched, it was a huge success, until 2010 when it all fell apart and local coaches and players were of the belief that it was just another element of the U17 preparations.

In 2012 WoLF was revamped and it brought out 19 teams consisting of 420 registered players in two divisions. They enjoyed increased media coverage, a spot on Synergy TV every Wednesday and did their own marketing via social networks.

They fell short of funding for the Big Four final, but a dedicated Women’s Technical Director, Even Pellerud, seeing the commitment of those in his charge offered to sponsor the finals.

League Public Relations Officer, Jinelle James expressed her pleasure on the 2012 season, explaining that it was a huge success compared to past seasons and the goal now is to improve it in 2013.

“We, the Executive, feel this was a good start for us and hope to build on this by trying to attract more sponsors for the 2013 season.

“The media has been really helpful and we have been more visible than ever. We know however that we still have lots of work to do with regards to improving the administration and the overall branding of the league,” she said.

James and the WoLF team have already begun their preparations for 2013.

Real Dimension Rips WoLF Apart

Real Dimension Football Club copped the FA and League title in this year’s Women’s League Football (WoLF) competition.

Captained by national player, Janine Francois and boasting national players the likes of Dernelle Mascall, Natasha St Louis and Tiana Bateau, among others, Dimension eased to victory in both tournaments. They won all but two games in the league – losing to Tobago FC and drawing with Trincity Nationals before sealing the FA trophy thanks to a last minute goal by St Louis.

Step-by-Step, lead by pro player, Ahkeela Mollon emerged as winners of the Big 8 competition and First Division in the league.

Malick City – Empowering Women Through Sport

Malick City is more than just a football club.

Since its inception, MC has been the home of many national footballers including national captain, Maylee Attin-Johnson and national defender Anastasia Prescott.

Team founder, Abdul Salick believes that in order for Trinidad and Tobago to develop, its women must be empowered and sport and education go hand in hand in doing so.

He has therefore invested his time and resources in creating an outlet for women to empower themselves while building the community of Malick, Barataria.

“To empower a nation, education is key,” says Salick. “The young women of Malick City Football Club are examples of powerful women – footballers and scholars, who will set the example in their sport and their community.”

Prescott shared Salick’s sentiments explaining, “The club is about building something special. It’s about comfort and shedding light on a stigmatized community.”

“Women love football just like men do, but a blind eye has been turned towards us to an extent. This year the league made an attempt to resurrect the life of women’s football in T&T and Malick is just one piece of the puzzle in assisting in the development of women in football.”