It’s accepted 50 per cent of the population has a big fight on its hands when it comes to being treated as equals in professional football, but Dee Yonah’s battle is one that no woman should have to be prepared for.
Dee at the Tusker FC training ground
While the struggle for parity in UK sport is typically played out in a boardroom, Dee’s fight just to get to the side of the pitch involves arming herself with pepper spray, for protection against violent security guards, and facing startling accusations of using witchcraft to stop teams from scoring goals.
This is the reality for one of the few female football journalists and media officers covering men’s Premier League football in Kenya.
The FIFA Master student at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) says her passion for what many fondly refer to as the beautiful game - and the positive vibes that can be spread by a win for her club Tusker FC - is one aspect that keeps her turning up to matches. The other is an undying belief that knowledge will give her the power to change an archaic attitude to women in football.
Dee has lifted the lid on this bizarre world to help explain why studying the FIFA Master International MA in Management, Law and Humanities course, voted the best of its kind in Europe a record eight times, is so important to her and female football fans across Kenya.
“When I am covering matches I usually have a laptop, two phones and a camera. There is so much multi-tasking involved with providing match updates on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter and having content for match reports. It’s hard work that I love doing.
“But because I am a woman and I have all of this equipment pitch side, and I am perhaps standing at a corner flag taking pictures, I have had opposition teams accusing me of using black magic.
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“Players and management have said ‘you cannot stand there. You are the one who is stopping us from scoring a goal’.
“Then at some grounds security will tell me I cannot enter the perimeter fence because I am female.
“I started to carry pepper spray in my pocket because security was getting so aggressive. When these guys approach, I need protection. It can be frightening. These huge men can get really rough with you and I cannot fight off people like that.”
Celebrating Tusker FC winning the league
“It has definitely tormented me. I have to be psychologically prepared to deal with abuse.”
Tusker FC - nickname The Brewers - are sponsored by the Kenyan beer giant of the same name whose support helps fund the team. Dee says the club is incredibly supportive, as are her family. In fact, Tusker has sponsored Dee’s place on the FIFA Master course.
Dee said: “I have a lot of support from Tusker in my role and my family are just the best. They simply say to me ‘go for it, go for it. You are good at your job. You love your job. Go for it’.
“They know the challenges I face as the only girl on the field but they always motivate me. I have got this far because of that support.
“Back in 2016 when I joined Tusker I was the only female media officer in the Premier League. I was facing challenges with people asking ‘why is a lady here?’. My stance was to say ‘I know what I am doing’.
“I have a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Media studies from Nairobi University and completed the Executive Programme in Sport Management at Nelson Mandela University in South Africa. But I wanted to go further with a FIFA Master
Checking photos while on media duty at a Tusker FC game
“My big motivation is that I am a woman in sport and I want to cement my position and do things the right way. I can do that with knowledge. People cannot challenge me so much when I acquire so much knowledge and show them I know what is right and can back this up.
“I do not want people to see me as ‘just a woman’ but as a sports manager. It is hard for all women but we must push on. If we do not push on we will never change things and we will never achieve what we want.
“My advice is always to stay professional. Do not be afraid. And believe in yourself.”
Despite these outrageous challenges that Dee faces, she approaches everything with laughter because what she does still makes her happy.
“I love my work. I love social media. I love journalism. I love football.
Dee with her mum at the Women's World Cup last year
“When I was a kid I went to an Adventist Church and I played football with the boys. My nickname “Mpenda spoti” in Swahili translates as ‘Lover of Sports’. At Primary and High School I played all kinds of sport. I just love it. I guess I was born a sporty person.
“Football brings out my emotions. It can give me good vibes but it has many ups and downs and because of that there is lots of drama. When I wake up every morning I have my coffee and the next thing I do is look at the football news.”
Dee, who supports Chelsea and also is a big fan of Leicester City women’s team (‘I love their style of play’), is incredibly focussed on helping Tusker FC succeed.
“We cannot run a junior team because of our beer sponsorship. There are strict licensing rules in Kenya about this. We can only start recruiting from 19-years-old. I have good 17-year-old players asking when trials for the club will start and I have to say ‘I really wish I could help you but we must follow the rules’. It is a major challenge.
“Tusker is a huge beer brand in Africa and the club is one of the top teams in Kenya. Unfortunately, I cannot brag we are number one in Africa. We have a long way to go. We do not have our own stadium and we do not have a huge fan base but we have a plan. And I look forward to returning home with a FIFA Master degree and helping the club achieve our targets.
“My work is broad. I am the only one in this position so I am managing social media, shooting video, writing stories and I am tasked with selling merchandise. We do not have a club shop so I have to rely on social media to do that too.
Dee working as MC at a Global Goals event in Uganda
“Whatever I learn in class I am always thinking how I can apply that to my work and future campaigns.”
Dee’s passion for journalism and sport has seen her join the De Montfort Student Union’s Demon Media team who run a radio station, TV Channel and produce a magazine, and she is also focussed on an equal rights campaign back at home in Nairobi “Here 4 Her”. So does someone who never knows when they are beaten ever relax?
Dee laughs then says: “When it is my time to switch off I make sure I do it. I do it completely. I will get a glass of wine in my hand, put on my music and dance. If you are a ‘yes’ person all of the time you miss out on ‘you’ time. It is important everyone makes the time to contemplate on life and plan for what is to come. A glass of wine and dancing does that for me.”
Posted on Friday 11th December 2020