Afghan women footballers dream of World Cup

By Daphne Benoit (AFP) –

KABUL — On a yellowing football pitch, next to concrete walls and razor wire, World Cup fever is running high for Afghan women footballers who dream of scoring for their war-torn country.

Training sessions may be interrupted by US helicopters landing, but the women play hard, tackling each other to the ground under the scorching summer sun.

"If anybody does that to me again, I'll do it to her," shouts one of the players after coming down in a tackle.

"Why are you laughing?" yells another at her teammates. "We have to be serious and exercise seriously."

Afghanistan is not likely to compete in a World Cup any time soon but its women's side trains fiercely in the heat, wearing headscarfs, track suits and long sleeves that cover everything except hands and faces.

Wearing shorts in Afghanistan is taboo. A few of the more daring players have swapped Muslim veils for baseball caps as they train next to the NATO headquarters in Kabul, nerve centre of a nine-year fight against the Taliban.

With the World Cup under way in South Africa, Hadisa Wali isn't missing a second of the action. She predicts victory for Brazil but her football hero is Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid's star Portuguese midfielder.

Her favourite female players are Brazil's Marta Vieria da Silva and Germany's Birgit Prinz, two stars of international women's football.

Teammate Khalida Popal calls football "a passion" but a struggle for women, who were forbidden from sport and all public activities, including going to school, under the 1996-2001 Taliban regime.

"It's hard to play football here," she explains. Aged 20, she is one of the oldest players in a young Afghan team. She watches recruits shooting at the goal, clad in T-shirts bearing the image of President Hamid Karzai.

"Some families refuse, they say this is not for girls," she says. "Others don't like it that we go abroad without our families."

In 2007, the women's team started to travel, playing in Germany, Jordan and Pakistan.

"Sometimes, it just makes me cry. You have to fight to continue to play. It's just like the Americans who fight against the Taliban," she says.

Under the post-Taliban Afghan constitution, women are equal to men and a handful have competed in overseas competitions, mostly in martial arts events.

But women's groups say they remain the most marginalised and underprivileged group in the country, subject to violence and discrimination in the name of Afghan tradition. The war is another hindrance.

In the middle of training, the team suddenly races for the stands as -- without warning -- two US helicopters prepare to land on the pitch.

"Normally they warn us, but this time they've forgotten," says Wali, bending over to protect herself from the powerful downdraft as a Black Hawk has just set down on the grass.

Due to safety concerns in Kabul, where Taliban suicide attacks are on the rise and where facilities are few, women play on ground attached to the general headquarters of the 142,000-strong foreign military in Afghanistan.

When the aircraft take off, training can resume. In red jerseys and football boots, the teenagers run drills under the watchful eye of their trainer, the only man to be seen.

Kawsaz Amine, 16, came to watch. She feels sick so is not playing, listening to pop star Shakira's World Cup hit on her mobile phone.

Like her sister, who also plays in the national team, she was brought up with a passion for "The Beautiful Game".

"My father was footballer, my uncle too. They are very happy that I play in national team," Amine says.

For her, Argentina are well placed to win the World Cup. Her favourite player and inspiration is Argentine star striker Lionel Messi.

"I want to become the Messi of Afghanistan," she says with a huge smile.

Source: http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gnZxctlhQh8HQCmsyeJblwv3Njlg


Photos: Women Rowing Team Practicing in Zayandeh Rud, Isfahan

Following photos by Hossein Baharloo show the women rowing team practicing on the beautiful Zayandeh Rud river in the historic city of Isfahan in the shadows of the ancient Sio-seh-pol bridge.
Zayandeh Rud (life giver river) is the largest river on the central plateau of Iran, Isfahan Province. The Zayandeh starts in the Zagros Mountains and flows 400 kilometres (200 mi) eastward before ending in the Gavkhouni swamp, a seasonal salt lake, southeast of Esfahan city. The Zayandeh Rud is spanned by many historical Safavid era bridges, and flows through many parks. Zayandeh Rud normally has significant flow all year long, unlike many of Iran's rivers which are seasonal. But this year the severe draught caused the river to completely dry up (see report). The water started flowing into the river recently bringing the life back to it!

Source: http://www.payvand.com/news/09/nov/1133.html


Palestinian women take over the raceway

Washington – Female racers are becoming more common on Palestinian race tracks as motorsports grows in popularity, Ma’an News Agency reported Monday.

As the Palestine Motorsports Federation and British Consulate General finished two days of training for women racers in Ramallah, a number of new faces got behind the wheel. Nine women took part in the weekend workshop, preparing for a race against their male counterparts in two weeks. The workshop, hosted by British racer Helen Elstrop, aimed to improve the women’s racing skills and technique.

One woman who took part in the workshop, 30-year-old Hamameh Jorban, had previously only been a fan of the sport, supporting her favorite racers from the sidelines. "Now, I will compete with all," she said. Another racer, Samia Khoury, is a mother of two from Jerusalem and said her husband, a racing trainer himself, had "encouraged me to race many times, but now, I feel able to compete with other women on the track."

The women at the workshop were trained on league regulations, professional racing, and techniques to become a high-scoring racer. Palestinian champion racer George Sa’adeh, the only male in attendance and brother of one of the woman racers, also helped Elstrop with the training. The workshop is “an excellent move” said George. He also lauded Elstrop for her efforts, saying, "Helen was wonderful, and she's been a coach and a racer for 17 years, and is married to a racer!"

Motorsports in Palestine have been a growing sport for several years, with the first league race held in Jericho in 2005, according to the Palestinian Motorsports Federation. Racers and their fans often come from across the territories to represent their home districts in the races, and in 2008 Palestinian racers traveled to Jordan and Egypt for competitions.

Though the league is few years old, women have only more recently joined the sport. Jospeh Handal is one of the federation’s founding racers and envisions the sport as an opportunity for all Palestinians, regardless of their gender. Betty Sa'adeh, George's sister, raced for this first time in August 2009, and she has not stopped since. "I encourage all the girls to join the race because it is so much fun," she said.

One of the barriers that both men and women racers alike must face is the rising cost of the sport. The Sa'adeh siblings both spoke in an interview about the burdening costs, saying competition gets steeper as the need for modifications to their racing vehicles increase. The cost for these improvements comes from their own pocket unless they find a sponsor.

To cover their costs for now, Karen McLuskie, who heads the British racing project, said the women’s team would have a separate budget for racing maintenance. McLuskie also spoke of the importance of Palestinian independence and of racing as a means to improve the image of Palestinian women.

“We encourage the establishment of a Palestinian state, and it needs to have a good image, a better understanding and view of Palestine, and especially of Palestinian women," McLuskie said. "When I came to Palestine and saw women racing, I thought it was a great project and sport to encourage that gives women a chance to express themselves and prove they are not ignored or marginalized.”

Source: http://palestinenote.com/cs/blogs/news/archive/2010/06/15/palestinian-women-join-the-race.aspx


It's a ‘foul' by FIFA

Neena Bhandari

As the winter sun descends, young girls warm up for football training in their shorts and shirts at the Lakemba Sport and Recreation Club (LSRC) in Sydney, Australia. Some are also wearing a hijab. Although a common sight in multicultural Australia, the hijab has come under the spotlight as soccer's world governing body, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), had banned it from competition in April this year. FIFA's rules state that players may not wear jewellery or dangerous headgear such as hair clips, and that “basic compulsory equipment must not have any political, religious or personal statements”.

In a flux over ban

The world of women's football has been in a flux ever since the ban came into force. When the new rule forced Iran's girls' soccer squad to opt out of the first summer Youth Olympic Games in Singapore this year, there were widespread protests. The issue was resolved recently after FIFA relented and permitted the girls to wear hats while on the field .

While it's a small victory for the Iranian girls, many Muslim players in Australia, such as Mecca Laalaa, 23, have expressed their deep disappointment at players being forced to choose between their love for the game and their faith. “I am disappointed with FIFA's illogical ban on the hijab. It is arrogant and discriminatory. We have hijabs that accommodate FIFA rules. They are made of cotton and don't require safety pins. It is like wearing a hood and one can choose from a range of colours,” says Mecca, who plays for the LSRC.

One of the goals mentioned on FIFA's Web site with regard to the women's game is “to increase the proportion of women and girls playing football at the grassroots, in schools and at amateur and professional levels”. Hiba Ayache, 24, has been playing soccer for the last 13 years and works as the Female Sports Recreation Coordinator at the LSRC.

She says, “My parents allowed me to play soccer as it is a non-contact sport. I started wearing the hijab two years ago and it seems to fit into our multicultural society just fine. The headscarf is a religious requirement. It is something I wear with a lot of pride and respect. FIFA's hijab ban is a slap in the face.”

But Hiba, who has never stopped getting a thrill out of kicking a football, feels that at the end of the day, it is FIFA's loss. “They will see a huge drop in the number of women playing the sport. Not just those who wear the hijab but women from other communities as well, as an expression of solidarity with us,” she says.

Women's football — long strides

Adds Mecca, who loves the team spirit and strong bonds of friendship she has formed through the sport, “We wear hijab because we want to, and not to make a religious, cultural or political statement.

0I want to dispel this perception that Muslim women who wear the hijab belong at home and are oppressed. While playing football at school, my headscarf wasn't an issue, but playing the sport at the competition level is not easy. There are instances when I feel out of place, but that isn't because I don't ‘assimilate', it's because of certain people's attitudes.”

Despite being a fairly new sport in the country, as compared with, say, cricket, women's football has taken long strides, with participation at every level increasing faster than in any other sport for women.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics' (ABS) Children's Participation in Cultural and Leisure Activities Report, April 2009, there were 82,700 girls between the ages of five and 14 playing outdoor football; and, according to ABS 2005-06 data, there were 1,08,100 girls of 15 years and above playing the sport.

For Sarah El-Adib, 20, football has been a passion since she was in the fourth grade . She says, “I love the sport because it accommodates wearing a hijab. As I got older, my parents became increasingly concerned about the physical nature of the game and would worry about me getting hurt, but they have always been encouraging and supportive.”

This, of course, is all set to change now. While football as a sport has managed to fit in with the needs of many Muslim women, this ban has come as a big blow. “I am allowed to walk in public with the hijab, attend university with it on, so why shouldn't I be allowed to play football? Football has always been considered an ‘international sport' so how can FIFA just exclude a large part of the world population? Sport is supposed to break down racial and religious barriers, not enforce them!” says Sarah.

No issues, says FFA

The Football Federation of Australia (FFA) has formed a small internal working group to examine the issue. According to a spokesman, “Our stance is that it is business as usual and there has been no changes to our domestic competitions, meaning women are free to wear hijab if they wish. We have had no reports of any issues in Australia around the wearing of hijab.”

Lebanese-born Dr Jamal Rifi, President of LSRC, whose three daughters play football, is pleased with this support from the FFA. He says, “They have been encouraging our girls to continue playing soccer despite the FIFA ban. We know this ban is not in the best interest of the players or the sport code itself. Hijab is not a hazard on the field for players. We had five ‘girls only' teams in our club last year and this was a direct result of opening the sport to players from all religions, races and cultures.”

In Australia, essentially a sports-loving nation, parents take keen interest in their children's sporting activities, escorting them to and from training and matches after school and at weekends. And as the countdown begins for FIFA Women's World Cup 2011 in Germany, Sam Kerr, 16 — one of the youngest players to join the national Australian women's football team, also called the Matildas — says she is “very excited, but nervous too.” Making it to the national team requires time, effort and years of training, along with learning to cope with the pressure of competition. Thea Slayter, 27, centre back or central defender in the Matildas, has been playing football since she was five. “Representing Australia has always been my goal and my parents supported me in achieving it. Matildas were my role models and joining the team has been a dream come true,” she says.

While football fever is high among the girls here, several Muslim players are left with a bittersweet feeling. Many like Sarah feel that they have something to prove to the world when they are on the field. She wants to give her best and prove that she is a good player, irrespective of what she wears — in this case, the hijab.

Source: http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/life/2010/06/18/stories/2010061850140400.htm

"I Represent All Muslim Women": An interview by Charlie Wyett with Aravane Rezai

THE strawberries are being cut, the bottles of Pimms are being unloaded at the All England Club.

And some blokes are thinking how hilarious it would be to shout 'C'mon Tim' ahead of a player serving on Centre Court. Yet you really know when Wimbledon is around the corner when the debate focuses on whether Andy Murray is either British or Scottish and his apparent hatred of all things English. After all, he once made a joke. Murray is now used to political tapdancing yet this is nothing compared to Aravane Rezai's unique situation. The 18th women's seed at the championships, which begin Monday, Rezai represents France, the country where she was born and raised. Yet both her parents are Iranian and she is a proud muslim. Rezai, 23, has even represented Iran at the Women's Islamic Games - twice - and she has met the country's controversial president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Yet incredibly, this driven, uncompromising and talented tennis player has handled a potentially-difficult situation like a veteran MP. She has also overcome a lack of family money and initial racism from France's tennis authorities to become the country's sporting golden girl and equally, is now an inspiration for muslim women around the world. Rezai makes no apologies for being extremely proud of both her backgrounds. She is also enjoying a decent year, winning the third title of her year in Madrid last month, beating Venus Williams in the final. She said: "There are a few but not too many Muslim women in sport. Sania Mirza, who is Indian, also plays tennis but I am the first from a Persian background. "I am proud to represent Muslim women. I know I am a model for other girls and if I can give them power or any help to improve their life, that is good. I am here and I want to show on court I am a fighter. I fight for my personal life and I fight for my tennis career. They are two things. "I have two passports. When I play for France people said 'she is Iranian not French'. I am proud to be half-Iranian and that is why I have a necklace from Iran around my neck at all times. Yet I play tennis for France, the country where I grew up. "So many people ask me whether I prefer France or Iran . I say: 'do you ask a mother which son she prefers?' I love both countries. "I have made a lot of sacrifices in my life and I feel stronger than so many other players. I have a different character. I am very strong. I like to fight on the court. It comes from my double culture. "Unfortunately I am not a practising Muslim but when I have finished my tennis career, I will be. "I last went to Iran 18 months ago. When I go, I cover up respectfully but I do not wear Islamic clothing. Some Iranians did not agree because I met the president and I gave two rackets to the president like a gift. But the rackets were given to the country, not just the president of the country." Rezai is never far from her family. She is coached by her father, Arsalan, her hitting partner is brother Anouch and her mother, Nouchine, doubles up as her physio. She said: "It was difficult in Saint Etienne as the weather conditions in the winter - like England - are not good. There was also jealousy at some tennis clubs and it was difficult to find a court. "At 17, I was junior French champion but I was then suspended by the French Federation for two months because I played two tournaments in a row. Two other girls did the same but they did not suffer a penalty. They were 'pure' French whereas I am half-Persian. I was not happy. "We had a lot of financial problems because dad did not work as he was looking after me. Everything we won was used to finance our travel. I was like the family business. There was real pressure to win. I knew I had to win tournaments because if I did not, we did not have the money to compete. I used to sleep in a van during tournaments - until I was 18 or 19. We never got anything from the French Federation."
While tennis is sport which breeds a few too many one-dimensional characters, Rezai is an engaging character whose life does not revolve around the practice court. She said: "I like astro-physics. I love watching stars. "I also like motorbikes as I enjoy sports with speed. I like ski-ing and soccer. My team is Lyon." Rezai reached the semi-finals at Edgbaston and after beating reigning Eastbourne champion Caroline Wozniacki on the south coast this week, she was forced to retire from her next match as a precaution due to a wrist problem. A hard-hitting and aggressive player, her game is clearly suited to grass and is more than capable of reaching the second week of Wimbledon for the first time. Rezai, who has also beaten the likes of Justine Henin and Maria Sharapova, said: "This is a good opportunity. Winning in Madrid gave me a lot of confidence. I realised that I can beat the top players. I believed in myself and did something big. Hopefully, I can continue. I knew it would click but just didn't know when. "I have become very popular at the French Open and now, cannot go out without people talking to me. It is very different at Wimbledon, as I can walk around the village. "But if I get results at Wimbledon, I will be popular in England." And if Rezai does deliver something special over the forthcoming fortnight at Wimbledon, it will be massively-significant triumph. A victory to be celebrated by millions of women around the world.


13th Sindh Games begin today

KARACHI: As many as 10 gold medals will be at stake in the men and women’s athletics events of 13th Sindh Games starting at PSB Coaching Centre here on Monday. Fastest men and women of the province will appear in the 100meter dash during the opening ceremony of the games. Earlier in the morning, 800meters, 5000meters races, javelin throw and long jump in the men’s category will be held. In the women category, 100meters sprint, 800meters, 1500meters races, javelin and long jump will be held.

Almas Ibrahim of Karachi gave outstanding performance in last year’s Larkana Games where she grabbed as many as eight gold medals by winning 100meters, 200meters, 400meters, 800meters, 1500meters, 5000meters, 4x100 and 4x400 relay races. Teenager Almas will be again main attraction of the games for the host city.

Iranian girls set for youth games after ban

TEHRAN - Iranian female footballers will take part in the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore this August after world football authorities lifted a ban on the wearing of the Islamic head veil, an Iranian official said on Tuesday.

"I think this is one of the big jobs done by the football federation," the chairman of the Iranian football federation Ali Kafashian told the ISNA news agency, referring to the lifting of the ban by FIFA.

"I think this is a great success for the Muslim nations because now women footballers can compete," Kafashian said.

"So we are currently designing a special women's football kit with the help of some domestic sportswear maker."

More than 3,600 young athletes between the ages of 14 and 18 years will take part in the inaugural event in Singapore from August 14-26.

Kafashian explained that the lifting of the ban came after he met with FIFA president Sepp Blatter in Geneva last month. According to Iranian media, the ban was imposed on October 2009.

"So we urgently got ourselves to Switzerland and in our meeting with Blatter we told him about the effort to boost the standing of Iranian women footballers," he explained.

"We told him that preventing them playing with the Islamic veil is preventing the growth of (women's) football.

"Then FIFA told us that they would study our reasoning and get back to us. They shortly afterwards announced that veiled women could take part in competitions."

FIFA have not confirmed they have lifted the ban, saying only in a brief statement: "We have been in contact with the Iranian federation on this matter for the past nine months."

The Islamic dress code is mandatory in Iran, which has been under clerical rule for more than three decades.

Every post-pubescent woman regardless of her religion or nationality must cover her hair and bodily contours in public.

National state-run television rarely shows women's sports events though many Iranian women are avid sports enthusiasts -- and practitioners.

Several have won medals in international tournaments that have allowed them to compete while wearing headscarves and observing Islamic dress code, notably Sara Khoshjamal-Fekri, 21.

She became a heroine at home as the first Iranian female taekwondo Olympic qualifier and was listed by Time magazine as one of the "100 Olympic Athletes to Watch" at the 2008 Beijing Games, where she was knocked out in the quarter-finals.

Marjan Kalhor, national skiing champion and Homa Hosseini, national rowing champion made histroy when they carried the Islamic republic's flag at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olypmics and the Beijing Games resepctively.


The Perspective of Arabic Muslim Women toward Sport Participation

Maesam-T-AbdulRazak, Universiti Putra Malaysia
Mohd Sofian, Omar-Fauzee, Universiti Putra Malaysia
Rozita Abd-Latif, Universiti Teknologi MARA
Abstract: The purpose of this study is to examine perspective of Arabic Muslim women toward the involvement in sport and physical activity. A sample of 15 Arabic Muslim women (age between 14 to 30 years old) who sojourn in Malaysia (i.e., studying, visiting, or housewife) have agreed to participate in the interview. All of them have signed an informed consent letter to be tape recorded. The recorder interviews were transcript and content analysis processes were conducted to identify the answers given in the semi structured questionnaire. Result shows that the women in this study are strongly influenced by the processes of cultural maintenance and identify with their parent’s ethnic group. Twelve Arabic Muslim women from 15 belong to different Arabic countries answered on question 3 with negative aspect as an example of the women who positions themselves clearly within the framework of their ethnic identity. The participating for the young Arabic Muslim woman in sport is seen as a challenge to the boundaries of their ethnic identities.The young Arabic Muslim women who position themselves clearly within the framework of their ethnic identities are not interested in sport because doing sport is not seen as a respectable femininity. Perhaps, these Arabic Muslim women who challenge their ethnic identities by participating in sport have experienced being harassed because they participate in sport. Recommendations for future research were also suggested in this paper.
Journal of Asia Pacific Studies ( 2010) Vol 1, No 2, 364-377
Source: http://www.japss.org/upload/13.maesam.pdf