For three weeks, football fans across Africa and the world have been hooked on the thrilling action of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON). The tournament has been a great spectacle, with major upsets, quality football, and an incident-free event leaving fans in awe. The event also has some unsung heroes, among them a clutch of official female photographers.
Joel Omotto, bird story agency
For years, sports photography was a preserve of men, but in recent years that has been changing, and at AFCON 2023, a record number of women photographers have captured historic moments for football organizations and media outlets.
Egyptian Weam Mostafa Elsayed was thrown into the deep end when her country hosted the tournament in 2019. Gaining recognition for her work in that event, she earned a second bite at the cherry as the official photographer of the delayed 2023 Confederation of African Football (CAF).
“Being a female photographer is a challenge in itself, especially in the sports field,” Elsayed told CAF. “Many people used to think that we were not good enough or even as good as the men. But I loved to challenge myself and everyone to prove them wrong.”
“The experience itself is not like any other tournament I covered; AFCON is huge; it unites the whole continent, and your pictures as a photographer is about history. Those pictures will live forever, and for me, as I meet people and photographers from all over Africa and elsewhere, I get to gain more experience and be better at my work,” she added.
Another official photographer working at her second AFCON is Gambian Sarjo Baldeh, who has been in the trade for seven years.
The 21-year-old made history when she became the youngest photographer at the delayed AFCON 2021 in Cameroon two years ago and the experience helped shape her into a top journalist.
“The experience in this AFCON has been beautiful, and I have learned a lot throughout. I realized that to be a sports photographer, you need to focus, be fast, and not be lazy to capture the best scenes,” said Baldeh, whose career started in 2015 when she was just 15 and in ninth grade.
Baldeh initially had challenges getting the right equipment and has had to overcome a lot of stereotypes. She has, however, remained resolute and is now reaping the fruits of her hard work and persistence.
Nigeria’s Justina Aniefiok is also capturing historic moments at her second AFCON, and what a tournament it has been for her, with the Super Eagles making it to the semi-finals.
Had things gone according to plan, however, she would be making headlines and not telling the story: she started out playing football but had to abandon her ambitions of becoming a professional football player when her family didn’t support her dream.
Her journey into sports photography started six years ago and has been a rollercoaster ride.
“Cameroon 2021 brought me to the limelight,” said Aniefiok, who was crowned 2021 Sport Photographer of the Year by the prestigious The Ballers Award in Nigeria.
She added, “I had to hand everything over to God to take perfect control, as I was scared of how I would survive when I got to Cameroon. But everything went well. I’m proud of myself because I was able to overcome my fear and showcase my work to a large audience.”
The three experienced photographers have not just acted as an inspiration to other women but also took female colleagues making their first appearances at the tournament under their wings.
Among those who have covered the AFCON for the first time are Ghanaian iLa Yeboah and Khady Sy from Mauritania.
Sy captured her country’s history as they earned a shock 1-0 win over Algeria to earn a last-16 spot at the tournament.
“The qualification at the expense of Algeria will remain one of the historic moments of my career. The celebrations with the Mauritanian players and supporters remain etched in my memory,” she said.
Yeboah only ventured into photography two years ago but her first AFCON was a disappointing one as Ghana exited the tournament at the group stage, meaning her stay in Ivory Coast was short-lived. However, the experience provided an opportunity to learn and network.
“I have met thousands of photographers, both young and old, from different countries,” she said of her experience in the Ivory Coast.
“It is a great honor to speak to a few of them and because most of them speak French… I have had fun. The fans’ reactions to goals are just beautiful; the African colors are all over match venues.”
While this year’s tournament has been widely regarded as a great exhibition of African football, these trailblazing young women have not only helped to record and showcase the event but have also a showcased themselves as pioneers in sports photography.
bird story agency
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