POPULAR female sports medicine specialist Eva Carneiro spent four years as Chelsea Football Club’s head medic. She was loved by many, the club’s fans and the rival supporters alike, while many believed she was the best in the business during her time at the London club.
BY NUNURAI JENA
A nasty clash with head coach Jose Mourinho drew widespread support from the global community as allegations of sexual discrimination and constructive dismissal emerged against the coach and the club.
In the end, she smiled all the way to the bank with a £5 million payout in out of court settlements.
However, even though female medics in the local top-flight league were inspired by Carneiro’s story, they continue to endure abuse from fans and football players’ alike, week-in,week-out.
Who can forget seven years ago when Harare giants Dynamos axed their physiotherapist Abigail Munikwa after the club’s leadership succumbed to pressure from a hardline superstitious clique among their fans, who held her responsible for the team’s sudden loss of form.
Seven years since that sad episode, local female medics say it is still hard to work in the local male-dominated dressing rooms as they have to deal with different male egos, abusive fans and players as well as archaic club traditions which sometimes bar them from being intimate with their spouses ahead of important matches.
Hwange Football Club’s Jacqueline Sarandega, who doubles as a mine physiotherapist, said she faces many challenges in her work, especially when dealing with the male ego.
Affectionately known as “Jay” in football circles, Sarandega said as a woman, she has had to prove herself before being remotely accepted.
“At first it was difficult as men tended to take what I told them with a pinch of salt but thanks to our medical profession, I am always able to give professional and indisputable facts about each and every situation,” she said.
Another medic, Sibusisiwe Mthunzi of Tsholotsho FC said another challenge was the abuse they received from fans and players as females.
Mthunzi recalled a hair-raising experience when she was assaulted by a Dynamos player Stephen Alimenda at Rufaro Stadium last year as she attended to an injured player.
The player accused her of time-wasting because her team was leading the hosts Dynamos one nil.
“My worst experience is when I was slapped by the Dynamos player Alimenda in May last year, but it also helped me to develop a thick skin and today I can handle any situation without any problems,” said Mthunzi.
The player was eventually banned for three matches and fined $2 000 after being found guilty of assaulting and insulting Mthunzi.
Sarandega concurred with Mthunzi, saying her worst experience was when rival fans chanted “prostitute, prostitute” when she entered the field of play to attend to an injured player.
While admitting she was shocked to hear such derogatory insults, Sarandega says her six years in the field has groomed her to be a tough woman both on and off the field.
On the issue of club superstitions, the girls-among-boys said when in Rome, you do what the Romans do.
“I follow all the rules and regulations involved in camping, like not sleeping with my husband two days before the game. I’m part of the team so I have to do this for the team. It was difficult for my husband at first but now he understands it,” said Mthunzi.
Former Rhodesia and Zimbabwe Saints striker Andrew “Mai Maria” Kadengu said it was not common for female medics to attend to players on the pitch during their playing days.
However, Kadengu said he saw nothing wrong with women taking up such challenges.
Clubs are required by Fifa to have a qualified physiotherapist on their technical benches.