The officiating department of the International Tennis Federation, in its bid to create more opportunities for women to become leaders in sport, staged the first ‘Advantage All’ seminar focusing on female certified officials based in Africa at the Garden Court Eastgate Hotel in Johannesburg, South Africa, last week Saturday.

The seminar saw fourteen certified officials from across Nigeria, Egypt, Tunisia, Togo, Kenya, Botswana, Zimbabwe and host country, South Africa, in attendance.

The seminar was led by ITF officials, Kelly Thomson and Lousie Azemar-Engzell with 3 guest speakers: Helene Botha, Fran Hilton-Smith and Dumisani Chauke.

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Kelly Thomson

The Advantage All campaign is aimed at improving gender equality and eliminating bias and discrimination in all areas of the game to ensure tennis is a leading light for sport both on and off the field.

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Louise Azemar and Kelly Thomson

From Nigeria, Aisha Hirse, Martina Ebijimi and Rose Abu were among the officials who were in attendance in South Africa. The three women have reflected on the seminar and also talked about how they intend to implement what they learnt in the seminar here in Nigeria.

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Head of Officiating in Africa, Ian Smith, speaking during the seminar.

Aisha Hirse, a white badge official, says the seminar was all about empowering the female officials and striking a balance between the number of the men and women in officiating, as the ITF seeks to create a gender balance.

Speaking on the implementation of what they learnt in South Africa here in Nigeria, Mrs. Aisha says they will work with both the country’s tennis federation and the umpire association to recruit more female umpires.

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Aisha Hirse all smiles with Kelly Thomson (L)

“We’d liaise with the federation, most especially our umpires association, brief them on what transpired there, then we at least try to bring female umpires together,” Mrs. Hirse said.

“Then if possible we go out to recruit and encourage more female officials to join,” she continued. “We will aslo encourage more women to go into coaching and leadership positions.”

Martina Ebijimi, who’s also a white badge official, shared the same sentiments. “The seminar was geared towards encouraging and helping female umpires all over the world,” Mrs. Ebijimi said.

“If you look at the ratio of women to men in officiating, you’d find out that women are far far behind, so the ITF felt there should be a campaign geared towards encouraging women to aspire higher.”

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Martina Ebijimi strike a pose with Kelly Thomson.

“It [the campaign] started last year all over the world for all areas of tennis not just officiating, including playing, coaching and administration, but for officiating it flagged off this year in South Africa.”

On how to ensure that more females join the game as umpires, Mrs. Ebijimi said “Some countries assist their female officials with grants, because some of them might not have the finance to go for tournament, because it is when you go out that you can gain experience.

“There’s also a need to invite more of women during tournaments within Nigeria. When other women see that women are given more chances, they’d aspire to go into officiating.”

Rose Abu, a National Official and the Secretary of the Nigeria Tennis Umpires Association also related her view on what the seminar was all about and their plans with regard to the application here in Nigeria.

“It [the seminar] is about officiating in general and the voice of female officials,” Mrs. Abu said. “From what I observed in South Africa, what they do there is not too far from what we are doing here in Nigeria led by our Chairman, Mr Kehinde Ijaola. Just like the last world tour in Abuja, 6 national officials were given the opportunity to go on chair, I was among those elected to go on chair.

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Rose Abu with Louise Azemar (L)

“Also while there, we did something like a refresher course because we were taught the rules of tennis and there was a practical session. We were evaluated by powerful ITF officials, she added.

On implementation plans, Mrs. Abu says the country’s association of umpires will encourage young female officials to be a part of the game, stating that they are all equal to the task… “if the men can do it, we too can do it,” she said.

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Rose Abu (L) about to toss a coin during a practical session during the seminar.

The guest speakers, Helene Botha, Sports Manager at North West University in South Africa, Franc Hilton Smith, a FIFA and CAF Football Instructor (coaching) and Dumisane Chauke, an under 21 Netball coach, made the presentations at the seminar.