“To those athletes who are flat-chested, one can easily think that they are men,” Hassan had said at a state event last Sunday to celebrate Tanzania’s Under-23 men’s team in the coastal city of Dar-es-Salaam.
“”It is unfortunate that there is no hope of marriage life for some of these athletes, marriage is like a dream for them. If one of you was to pick one of the athletes and take her home as a wife to meet your parents, I am sure your mother would be surprised and confused as to whether it’s a woman or a man,” the president said.
Elsewhere in her speech, she emphasized the need to increase funding for the country’s athletes, especially sportswomen and looking after them in retirement.
A video of Hassan’s speech, which was delivered in Swahili, sparked outrage after it was widely shared on social media.
Hassan, 61, is the country’s first female president who was sworn in after the death of predecessor John Magufuli in March this year.
Her reign was touted to usher in a more liberal stance from her predecessor’s often repressive regime.
“The comment by president @SuluhuSamia on women footballers is a humiliation to all women,” said forner MP Catherine Ruge, head of the women’s arm of the opposition Chadema party.
The Presidency has not commented on the uproar following Hassan’s remarks, however, senior players of Tanzania’s national women’s team ‘Twiga Stars,’ said at a press conference Thursday that she had been misinterpreted.
“There is a statement that the president had spoken about and people interpreted it in different ways,” one player said.
“The president’s statement gave us, the players, a lot of strength and encouragement, which made us to work very hard in sports. We have not seen anything with that statement.”
Another player stated women footballers in the country are not bothered by their physical looks.
“We are beautiful, we are wonderful like other women and we also plan to be mothers someday. The question about appearance on our side is not something that really matters to us… The game we play needs a lot of strength. We will not stop doing exercising to build our muscles and strengths in order to reach our goals,” the player, who was not named, said.
“This kind of soundbite from the president of the country, especially one who’s a woman is easily pounced upon by sexist and misogynistic people,” Tsehai told CNN.
“It’s a very unfortunate remark, considering the fact that she (Hassan) has been celebrated in Africa as the first female president of Tanzania — overcoming stereotypes and the perceptions people have that a woman cannot be the leader of a country.”
“For her to turn that around and use stereotyping against these women who are also breaking stereotypes…especially in a male-dominated sport like football, is very unfortunate,” she added.