Muslim female athletes shine at Asian Games

AP Photo
GUANGZHOU: Back home, the Pakistani women's cricket team is anonymous, especially compared with their illustrustrious male counterparts. 
But after their gold medal triumph at the Asian Games, the girls in green were basking in the spotlight for a change. It was Pakistan's first Asian Games gold medal in eight years - a milestone that supporters say points to the need for more education and opportunities in sports for women in Muslim countries. 
"Our media doesn't give women's sports that much coverage, as much as they give to men's sports," said Pakistan all-rounder Nida Rashid. "There are so many sports in which women participate in Pakistan, like squash, table tennis and volleyball, but they go unnoticed." 
The Asian Games, an Olympic-style event drawing athletes from a collection of countries representing two-thirds of the world's population, is the biggest stage for many of the female competitors. 
In parts of the continent, playing sports is often considered inappropriate for women and out of step with traditional gender roles. Consequently, resources for coaching, training and competition generally lag behind the funding set aside for male athletes. 
Pakistan came to Guangzhou with 25 female athletes out of a total of 169, participating in cricket, judo, shooting, squash and sailing. 
Iran sent a women's team to compete in kabaddi, and all wore head coverings in their opening match: a 62-18 win over Taiwan on Monday. 
War-torn Afghanistan has seven women in its 67-member delegation, all of them competing in martial arts events. Conservative Saudi Arabia has 170 men and not a single woman. 
In comparison, host China, a sporting powerhouse that has invested heavily in developing elite athletes of both genders, has 458 women and 507 men. 
"There still needs to be more work toward educating females, educating their families to make them feel that is it OK to represent their countries abroad," said Basma Ahmad Essa, a taekwondo athlete from the United Arab Emirates. "We're not disagreeing with any laws of Islam or things like that, that a lot of conservative people might put as obstacles in front of players." 
AP Photo
Essa, 26, added that a lack of awareness about female participation in sports was also hampering development. 
"We've started looking at the West and trying to get the best out of them, and trying to apply it within our countries, she said, sweat pouring off her face after beating a Nepali opponent. 
One pioneering women's squad has been taking the field in Guangzhou with traditional Muslim head coverings, showing that religious obligations can co-exist with sports. 
"The world has developed and it is time for women to take their place," said Maryam Ahmed Al-Suweidi of the Qatari handball team, just one of two female Arab teams in Guangzhou. The other is the football team from Jordan. 
Olympic Council of Asia president Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, a Kuwaiti, said 80 percent of the west Asian national Olympic committees had females participating in Guangzhou. 
"For many of these athletes, it's the first time in this environment," he said, predicting that the number of female athletes from conservative countries would continue to swell. "This will continue to improve." 
The handballers are young and their inexperience has shown during lopsided losses to Taiwan and Kazakhstan, but Al-Suweidi says it's just the beginning, noting that participation in women's sports has been on the rise in her home region. 
"Of course all people like to take part in sports ... I do not believe there is any obstacle at the moment against women taking part in sport in the Arab world," she said confidently. 
Pakistan cricket captain Sana Mir noted that her squad used to just compete against women's teams but now also play men's Under-19 and Under-25 sides. 
"I think if women in Pakistan are given opportunities to play sports with proper coaches and facilities, there's no reason why they should not perform - not only at Asian Games - but also in major international tournaments," she said. "I believe if you do something with honesty you can gain a lot in the field of sports."


New Video of MWSF

Here is the new advertisement and introduction video of Muslim Women's Sport Foundation. MWSF is a London-based organization promoting Muslim women's participation in recreation and professional sports.

Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GIKchKM7vtI

Cricket manages to stay in Asian Games

The Big Boys are not here, but the Asian Cricket Council, which made no secret of its disappointment and disapproval at India not sending a team to Guangzhou, achieved a major step by ensuring that the sport stayed on the programme for the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, Korea. 
Even as the International Cricket Council looks at the United States as a future market, the ACC is elated at China taking to the game.
Syed Ashraful Haq, Chief Executive Officer of the ACC, said: “China’s debut at the Asiad means a lot to us. Without its involvement, cricket simply cannot be classified as an international sport.”
The Chinese women’s cricket team advanced to the quarterfinals in its first international appearance, and Haq added:“China’s cricket is on the right track now and our hard work has paid off.”
Earlier in the week, Haq also achieved a major win outside the cricket field, as the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) decided to cut non-Olympic sports from 14 to seven after the Guangzhou Asian Games. Haq managed to bat well for cricket and saved it from the axe.
“What they don’t understand is that cricket could add value to the Asian Games commercially. As the No1 sport in many countries like Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, and non-Asian countries including England and Australia, the organisers could have made a fortune simply by selling broadcasting rights. “The sport could add 20 to 25 per cent financial value to the Games.”
He also feels that cricket’s presence in Asian Games is necessary for it to have Olympic dreams. Haq maintained that the women players did well at the Games and feels cricket is an acceptable sport for women in Muslim countries because there is no body contact and the players are covered.
About Chinese acceptance of the sport, he added: “They (the Chinese) knew absolutely nothing about cricket before the games, but look at them now. They know the rules, they can even comment on the matches.”
The men’s tournament starts from today.
By V Krishnaswamy


Creations to shed inhibitions

By Peter Townson
Muslim sportswomen were presented with a taste of conservative chic sportswear at the ‘Aspire4Sport’ conference yesterday, where renowned UAE-based fashion designer, Rabia Z presented her latest collection of sports and couture items.

Rabia’s ‘Ruby4Aspire’ collection is aimed at providing sports gear for Muslim women who wish to participate in sport but remain wearing the hijab.

The designer explained that she has been researching the collection for some time, and has been working hard to create a collection that Arab women will feel comfortable to exercise wearing it.
She said that she had been inspired to create the collection after giving up rock climbing despite her passion for it, simply because she felt she did not have adequate sportswear to continue after deciding to wear the hijab.
“Most Muslims I know wear abayas for walking, gym jagging or sportswear,” she said, adding “this is because they cannot find conventional active gym wear that fits their niche needs -– and I wanted to ensure this.”
Following her fashion show yesterday, Rabia told Gulf Times about her desire to encourage Muslim women all over the world to take part in sport.
“If you feel that you have a talent for sport, or a passion for it, or you’re good at it, or you’re contemplating taking up a sport but feel you have limitations, I want you to feel free to take part in sport,” she said.
“I want to encourage women to be all they can be and not to think that they have limitations because they are wearing an abaya,” she said, adding “I would like to encourage them to feel freedom.”
Models present creations during the fashion
show. PICTURES : Shemeer Rasheed
She explained that she also used hints of Qatari culture to inspire the collection, and stated that her muse for her creations was HH Sheikha Mozah Nasser al-Misnad. “I see her personal style as extremely feminine; it compliments her inherent confidence and adds to her charisma.”
“I want to salute her through my collection,” she said, adding 
“‘Ruby4Aspire’ represents her vibrant vision of our culture, filled with colour, creativity, embodying the spirit of competition without limitations in dress-code, or religious beliefs.”
“Freedom of expression, freedom of performance, so they can live to their full potential, this is the mantra,” added Rabia.
She explained that the material used to create her designs include a number of features to heighten performance, reduce odours, and to help sportswomen in a variety of ways.


Turkey finishes sixth at the Women’s World Volleyball Championship

Defending champion Russia beat Brazil in the final on Sunday in Tokyo to win the gold medal at the Women’s World Volleyball Championship.
Turkey lost in straight sets (25-23, 25-20, 25-21) to Italy in the fifth place game to finish sixth, its best result in women’s world volleyball events. The Russian women rallied for a 3-2 (21-25, 25-17, 20-25, 25-14, 15-11) win over Olympic champion Brazil to capture its second straight world title. Ekaterina Gamova led the Russians with 35 points. Sheilla Castro had a team-high 26 for Brazil. Japan upset the United States 3-2 (18-25, 25-23, 21-25, 25-19, 15-8) to win the bronze medal. Yukiko Ebata led host Japan with 28 points. 
Neslihan Darnell, the leading scorer for the tournament, posted 17 for Turkley against Italy, but it was not enough to stop the Italians. Leading the Italian team in scoring was Serena Ortolani who posted 17, while Simona Gioli supported with 13 of her own, including four blocks. Antonella Del Core chipped in 10.
Turkey coach Mehmet Bedestenlioğlu congratulated the Italian team for its performance. “We made many mistakes attacking today,” he said after the game. “Once we made mistakes our performance went down. I am of course sad with the result of this match, but generally I am happy with our performance during the championship as a team. And I am happy about being sixth.”
Turkey captain Esra Gümüş said Turkey’s energy against Italy was down. “Maybe we could have had a chance if we had played more aggressive,” she said.
Also on Sunday, Germany edged Serbia in a tight four-set contest (20-25, 25-21, 25-22, 25-23) to win the battle for seventh spot at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.
Both teams had lost their previous matches against Turkey and Italy respectively, but the Germans bounced back with the help of an incredible show of scoring power from Margareta Kozuch, who delivered 29 points. Maren Brinker and Corina Ssuschke totalled 13 and 10 respectively in the winning effort while Christiane Furst had five blocks among her eight points.

TIME: Women's Cricket; Afghanistan's Secretive New Sport

By Abigail Hauslohner
Afghanistan's national women's cricket team practices in the private yard of team manager Mohamed Naeem, in Paghman district, 12 miles west of Kabul. The Afghanistan Olympic Committee agreed extended official sponsorship to Naeem's team two weeks ago. It is Afghanistan's first national women's cricket team. Abigail Hauslohner for TIME

The dust storm whips through town and obscures the mud-brick farming compounds built into the rocky hillsides 12 miles west of Kabul. The bustling thoroughfares of the Afghan capital, with its women in jeans and loose headscarves, have given way to men on rickshaws and the ghost-like figures of women in burqas that whip around them in the wind. "This neighborhood has lots of mujahideen and people who are close-minded. If they are not Taliban, they have a Taliban mentality," says Mohammed Ajmal Barakzai of his neighbors in Paghman District. "So we keep a low profile so as not to create a problem."
Barakzai is being secretive about Afghanistan's first national women's cricket team, which is using Paghman as its practice grounds — albeit shielded by a high brick wall from public view. The team, where he is assistant coach, isn't typical of Afghanistan, certainly not of Paghman. Last year, Barakzai's father, Mohamed Naeem, returned from a decade in exile in Pakistan with an unusual mission: to set up a cricket team on which his four cricket-loving daughters could play. The plan quickly mushroomed into a family dream for a national women's cricket team.
Cricket had already hit it big in Afghanistan, with enthusiasm for the sport fueled by 3 million refugees returning from Pakistan, where it is hugely popular. Afghanistan's national men's team was one of 12 top teams to compete in this year's International Cricket Council Twenty20 international cricket tournament — a first for Afghanistan and a matter of huge national pride. During President Hamid Karzai's visit to Washington in May, Hillary Clinton even used the war-torn country's cricket team as a model for overcoming adversity. "I might suggest that if we are searching for a model of how to meet tough international challenges with skill, dedication and teamwork, we need only look to the Afghan national cricket team," she said, speaking alongside the Afghan president.
That was the men. For the women's team however, one might speak more of the domestic challenges. Eight years after the fall of the Taliban, women's cricket — like other initiatives for women — still lags far behind. And despite efforts by the Afghanistan Olympic Committee to bring sports to girls in Afghan schools and establish national teams, the country had yet to see a national women's cricket team — until two weeks ago.
Most of the players are teens with little to no prior cricket experience. They pile into taxis and rickshaws several days a week to journey from Kabul to Naeem's rented home in Paghman, where the family borrowed a tractor to smooth a fallow plot of land into a makeshift cricket pitch. It's a routine that would be unacceptable for most girls in Afghanistan's provinces, but most members of Naeem's team hail from relatively well-educated families, or at least families exposed to the more liberal leanings of Kabul. Naeem says all of the girls' parents have approved their travel to India to participate in a tournament next month — provided he can find the money. "They are motivating me," says Madina Wahidi, 18, of her parents and her sport. "I want to be world famous."
For the Afghan Olympic Committee, the cricket team marks the latest of over two dozen women's teams to be registered across 21 sports — all developed since 2002. "Six months after the collapse of the Taliban, we started to go into schools to establish teams," says Shamsol Ayot Alam, head of social women's sports at the Afghanistan Olympic Committee. But Alam received "warnings" at first: that girls shouldn't be playing sports; and a year ago, she received a threat over the phone. Around the same time, a man on a motorcycle drove into the girl's basketball team, injuring one of the players. Still, she says there are now around 2,000 female athletes participating in sports in Kabul — most of them in schools.
Then again, as Naeem has learned over a year of organizing, the fact that his players are women is only one of the challenges. And Afghan sports are no more immune to the rampant corruption, inefficiency, and cronyism than other Afghanistan institutions. On a few weekdays, when TIME visited, Olympic Committee staff sat in cramped offices at empty desks. Some stared listlessly into space. Others lamented their low government salaries. And no one appeared to be working.
But accomplishing just about anything official in Afghanistan can be a challenge if you don't have the right connections. And Naeem says it's a mix of politics and tribal loyalties — not gender — that has so far kept the women from getting sponsorship from the Afghanistan Cricket Board, which manages the men's team. "The majority of the cricket board is Pashtun, and they don't want a non-Pashtun team," says Naeem, who is himself a Pashtun, but says his team is a mix of Pashtuns and Tajiks. "They like their own tribes from the border and they like Pakistanis," he says. Head coach Diana Barakzai, Naeem's eldest daughter, adds: "For us, it doesn't matter as long as they're Afghans."
Naeem has been unable to mobilize financial sponsorship — a failure that he likewise attributes to cricket board maneuvering. The chairman of the cricket board is also Afghanistan's finance minister — a post with close ties to Kabul's rapidly developing economy, and a common example of overlapping responsibilities in a system fraught with corruption. "Azizi Bank Foundation had promised some money to prepare the cricket pitch, but today they said they have other priorities now," says Naeem. "The banks are under control of the finance ministry." Emal Shinwari, CEO of the Cricket Board says the rejection of Naeem's team had nothing to do with tribe, gender or politics; it was merely a matter of budget.
Funding and recognition will be the team's most crucial obstacles moving forward. The team has been invited to competitions in New Zealand and Argentina, but had to decline the invitations without official backing and official funds. "We were ready for it, but we couldn't make it," says head coach Diana Barakzai. It was only because of Olympic Committee sponsorship that the team was assigned a practice field for training. But the pitch was deemed unsuitable for girls because it isn't "covered" from public view, so Naeem continues to pay for the transport of his players to Paghman. "In Afghanistan, if they play in public, people will disturb them and say girls cannot play cricket," explains Ajmal, the assistant coach.
Additionally, some national players are spread across the country, in cities like Mazar-e-Sharif and Ghor, making it impossible for them to practice as a group more than once a month. On any given practice day, only 10 of the 15-person national team members can make it. The session is supplemented by younger cricket trainees from the family's now 200-strong cricket workshops, where enrollment is free.
It may be a long time before Naeem has the resources to create Afghanistan's first female cricket heroes. But he seems patient. "My dream is that my daughters, my team, go to another country and bring me a cup of victory from an international competition," Naeem says. "If I have a chance, I'll make a team of retired people too."

Afghanistan plans for first national women’s cricket team

Source: AFP
Afghanistan is to get its first national women’s cricket team, the sport’s governing body in the country said on Thursday, announcing plans for it to compete in an international tournament next year.
“This development is so exciting for our young women cricketers and their families and supporters,” said Diana, women’s cricket development officer at the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB), in a statement.
The women’s cricket uniform will include a headscarf and is modelled on the one worn by the United Arab Emirates’ women’s side, it added.
Women’s participation in sport in Afghanistan has increased since the 2001 fall of the hardline Islamist Taliban. Sprinter-turned-lawmaker Robina Jalali made it to the Olympic Games in 2004 and 2008, competing in a hijab or traditional Muslim headscarf.
Football and basketball teams have sprung up in some urban areas, but women’s full involvement in sports is still lacking — as in other areas of society — and in many rural areas women rarely leave their homes.
The ACB said the team’s participation in next February’s short-format Twenty20 tournament in Kuwait would be the first time Afghan women will have taken part in cricket matches abroad.
More than 100 young women currently play the game in the capital Kabul and three have recently attended umpire training courses. The ACB has also set up coaching sessions to attract more girls and young women to the sport.
Coaching takes place in four girls’ schools, a “women only” park and an orphanage in Kabul, the organisation said.
A women’s tournament will be held to select the national side for the competition in the Gulf state, which is organised by the Asian Cricket Council.
The ACB said it has plans to build a cricket academy for women in Kabul that would provide the “culturally appropriate situation for women cricketers”.
“Women’s cricket provides an opportunity for Afghan young women to be fit and have healthier and more active lives,” said ACB chief executive Hamid Shinwari.


Bahrain women clinch third spot - By Rami Hulayyel, on Oct 28

BAHRAIN hammered Palestine 5-1 yesterday to secure the bronze medal in the Women's Football Cup Arabia 2010.
The home side dominated the show in the consolation match for third place, held at the National Stadium in Riffa.
Bahrain's goals included a brace from Manar Yaqoob while Reem Al Hashimi, Marwa Al Majjri and Shaikha Al Anood Al Khalifa fired one each.
It took the hosts just 11 minutes to threaten the Palestinians. Shaikha Al Anood almost put the ball into the back of the net, but her shot went wide.
Four minutes later, Bahrain came close to being awarded a penalty when Al Hashmi was brought down the 18-yard box. But Lebanese referee Hoda El Awadi waved play on.
Bahrain didn't wait too long for their first goal, which came in the 22nd minute. Palestine's fullback Hamama Jorban handled the ball deliberately inside the area and the referee this time showed no hesitation in awarding Bahrain a penalty. It was successfully taken by Al Hashmi who sent Palestinian goalkeeper and skipper Jaklin Jazrawi to the wrong side.
Bahrain, who have a better Asian ranking of 15 compared to Palestine's 21, continued to rule the proceedings with Shaikha Al Anood, Al Hashmi and Muna Al Dayysi making a string of inroads.
But hundreds of supporters waited till the 49th minute to see Bahrain double their advantage with Yaqoob scoring her first goal in the game. The tall defender bounced on a free-kick by Bahrain captain Yasmine Fayez which came off the bar.
Bahrain put the scores beyond reach scoring the third goal 10 minutes later when Yaqoob used her shoulder to secure her double off Al Hashmi's corner-kick.
It could have been 4-0 in the 72nd minute, but Al Daaysi's goal was disallowed for offside.
The Bahraini girls continued to press forward and hit the fourth in the 80th minute through Al Majry who punished the goalkeeper's wrong judgement to chip the ball into the back of the net.
Then it was Shaikha Al Anood's turn to complete the rout, scoring Bahrain's fifth goal, and her seventh goal in the tournament, with six minutes remaining after a neat pass from Al Hashmi.
Palestine had very little chances in front of the Bahrain goal, well-guarded by Shaikha Nouf bint Khalid Al Khalifa.
But the visitors had something to salvage in the last minute of the game when they capitalised on a penalty kick, which was well taken by Natalie Shaheen.
In today's final, Egypt and Jordan will clash for the trophy and the gold medal. The match, which begins at 6pm, will be held under the patronage of Princess Sabika bint Ebrahim Al Khalifa, the Women's Supreme Council chairwoman.

Jordan clinch soccer crown - By Rami Hulayye

JORDAN edged past Egypt 1-0 last night to win the gold medal in the Women's Football Cup Arabia 2010.
In an exciting final, held at the National Stadium in Riffa, Stephanie Mazen fired the all-important goal which gave Jordan an exclusive training camp in Germany in the run-up to the 2011 Women's World Cup.
Playing in front of thousands of cheering supporters, both teams headed into the tournament's final seeking the prestigious trophy.
The Jordanians, coached by Maher Abu Hantash, were looking to avenge their 0-1 defeat to the Egyptians in the last match of Group 'B' earlier in the tournament which saw their side finish second in the group.
It was the Egyptians who started the match on a high note as they dominated the proceedings, thanks to some outstanding teamwork led by their midfielder Engy Ahmed.
Skipper Ahmed was back in the Egyptian squad after serving a one-match ban, missing her team's semi-final match against Palestine which ended for Egypt 4-0.
Egypt's coach Ahmed Kamaleldin started the game with only one striker, Nesma Atef Ibrahim, who was supported by talented attacking midfielders Fadwa Ibrahim, Ingy Hussain, Yasmine Samir and Fayza Elnady.
But the Egyptians faced a solid defence from the opposition, marshalled by Farah Yahya and behind her the goalkeeper and skipper Mis'da Naseem who brought off several fine saves.
The Jordanians came back roaring in the second half and their efforts proved more dangerous with Shahnaz Yaseen, the tournament's fastest player, making most of the team's inroads.
Yaseen's first threatening move came in the eighth minute, but her shot went past the post.
The Jordanian midfielder again made another serious effort in the 29th minute when she used her high pace to evade the Egyptian defence on the right flank, only to see her finish denied by goalkeeper Fawkia Amri.
Mazen then nearly gave Jordan the lead just before half time when she finished off a solo effort on the far left corner with a powerful shot which was bravely foiled by goalkeeper Amri.
The game continued to be a neck-and-neck affair and with nine minutes remaining, Mazen explored her skills with a flying kick from the edge of the box which went into the roof of the net, much to the joy of the Jordanian players, officials and fans.
With just a few minutes left, Egypt pressed forward seeking a late equaliser, but all their efforts were denied by the Jordanian defence.
The final was held under the patronage of Princess Sabika bint Ebrahim Al Khalifa, the Women's Supreme Council chairwoman, who delegated Shaikha Hussa bint Khalifa Al Khalifa.
Shaikha Hussa, who honoured the top three teams at the awarding ceremony, congratulated the winners and wished others success in future championships.
Source: http://www.gulf-daily-news.com/NewsDetails.aspx?storyid=290386

Jordan shatter Bahrain hopes - By Rami Hulayyel

BAHRAIN's bid to win the first-ever Women's Football Cup Arabia 2010 was foiled last night following a heavy 0-3 defeat to Jordan.
In the first semi-final of this regional competition, which took place at the National Stadium in Riffa, the tournament's top team Jordan ended Bahrain's impressive run with Enshirah Ibrahim, Farah Emad and Stephanie Mazen firing one goal apiece for the victors.
In the final, scheduled for Thursday, Jordan will take on Egypt who outplayed Palestine 4-0 later yesterday.
Egypt were without skipper and the team's top player Engy Ahmed who served a one-match ban after collecting her second yellow card in the tournament during her team's match against Jordan in the concluding game of the first round.
However, the Egyptians showed strength and experience in last night's match to emerge winners thanks to goals from Fawzia Eid (1st minute), Nesma Fekry (13th), captain Fayza Hidar (30th) and Ayat Mortada (90th).
The tournament's final, to be followed by the prize-giving ceremony, will be held under the patronage of Princess Sabika bint Ebrahim Al Khalifa, the Women's Supreme Council chairwoman.
Semi-final losers Bahrain and Palestine will face off tomorrow in a consolation match, starting at 5.30pm, for the third place.
The winners of the tournament will benefit from exclusive training in Germany in the run-up to the 2011 Women's World Cup.
The Bahrainis headed into yesterday's semi-final with confidence, following an outstanding show in the first round which saw them win first place in Group 'A' which also featured Palestine, Syria and Qatar.
Bahrain's coach Khalid Al Harban was heavily relying on his star midfielder Shaikha Al Anood Al Khalifa, who scored eight goals for the team during the first round.
However, the home side faced a tough challenge from their opponents, who proved the stronger side yesterday with excellent teamwork, accurate passing and good pace.
The Jordanian girls took advantage of an 11th-minute lapse by the Bahraini defence to take the lead through Enshirah.
Al Anood then led a series of inroads but her efforts missed final touch. Other brave individual attempts by Bahrain players Reem Al Hashmi, Marwa Mohammed, Yasmeen Fayez and 18-year-old striker Muna Al Daaysi were also thwarted by the Jordanians.
The hosts' comeback bid suffered a major blow in the 31st minute when they conceded a second goal through Emad's spectacular free-kick which deceived the Bahraini defence and goalkeeper Huda Ali Salman.
Jordan could have scored the third on 60 minutes but Shahnaz Yaseen, the player of the match, saw her brilliant effort denied by the bar.
But the Jordanians did find the back of the net six minutes later when Mazen's free-kick was accidently deflected by Bahrain defender Noora Abdulaziz into her team's net.

BETINA ALONSO explores the intersection between religion and athletics

(The Varsity)
The University of Toronto has come a long way in fostering an inclusive policy for athletics. Training facilities on all three campuses offer women’s-only hours daily, and the Varsity Blues program has a history of accommodating the religious customs of its athletes. Being in Canada, however, bears undeniable cultural implications that prevent some Muslim women from becoming active in university athletics.
Muslim girls who are indifferent to wearing headscarves and have no qualms about being around the opposite sex adapt more easily to athletic life at the University of Toronto. However, practicing girls that prefer to wear less revealing clothing, have stricter families, and tend to feel less comfortable around men who are not their relatives might have more serious concerns when it comes to training.
“I come from Saudi Arabia and because we have segregated sports for both boys and girls, it really encourages more girls to try out sports and actually get very interested in them,” says Huda Idrees, the vice-president External of the Muslim Students Association. “Over here, the general aura around people who play sports — the Varsity uniforms — might be big hindrances. There are also, of course, the religious restrictions, such as the headscarf.”
alt text

Hanieh Khosroshani, a Muslim U of T student and part of the Varsity Blues women’s rugby team for two years, believes that, mainly for issues of comfort, Muslim women tend to stay out of university athletics.
“I think many Muslim women limit themselves, because of the occasional lack of acceptance, and because of the inconvenience and uncomfortable aspects of it,” says Hanieh.
Naafia Mattoo, a Muslim U of T alumnus, notes that “in Muslim culture, you wouldn’t be in a room filled with guys who weren’t related to you in tight fitting clothes.”
Still, Hanieh comments that in her experience with the Varsity Blues, “[They] were very considerate when it came to accommodating my needs in terms of uniform. They allowed us to do whatever we needed to in order to be comfortable.”
To play rugby, Hanieh was given a scrum cap to wear, so that her hijab would not move around. Nevertheless, there is only so much that accommodation can help with.
“When I play soccer for tri-campus, it makes it a little more difficult. It’s just not that easy working out when you’re fully covered,” says Hanieh.
Manager of Sports Information and Promotions for the Blues, Mary Beth Challoner, reports that without the administration’s knowledge, there have been Muslim women competing in OUA field hockey and soccer.
“They have worn track pants the colour of the shorts and long sleeve shirts under their jerseys. They have also worn head coverings. These athletes were able to train and compete with their teams in an open facility because they were able to accommodate their sport uniform needs with their religious requirements,” says Challoner.
Girls who are only involved in training and use the university training facilities adapt in different ways. Some go to gym facilities during regular training hours and use breathable scarves, wear tights under their shorts, loose tracks, and long tops. Others prefer to take advantage of the scheduled women’s-only hours, since they allow for Muslim girls who normally wear headscarves to work out in regular training gear.
Huda considers the efforts made for inclusiveness at the university athletic facilities “commendable,” with some caveats.
“As soon as the women’s-only hours finish, the guys pretty much pour into the centre, and I’m always paranoid that I will be caught off-guard without my hijab,” says Huda, and she prefers keeps on her headscarf as a result. “I would much rather not have my headscarf on while exercising because it gets hot and sweaty.”
While there are women’s-only swimming hours at the Athletic Centre, the swimming pool is visible from the dance studio. “It defeats the purpose,” says Huda.
“The hours are fairly short. I guess that’s the only criticism I would make,” claims Hanieh, and adds that “not all areas of these facilities get women’s-only hours, only some do.” Huda also finds that the hours are restrictive and usually don’t fit into her schedule. She also has to leave the pool and the strength and conditioning centre before the end of women’s-only training hours, since men are let into the room on the clock.
Dance classes are mixed, and as a result, can be distressing for those who prefer not to have an opposite-sex dance partner.
Maryam S. Mughal, who goes to dance classes, does not like to dance with men, and prefers to use a female partner. Huda personally thinks there should be women’s-only dance classes.
“I would want the Dance Studio to be closed for this class, so men aren’t allowed in,” says Huda.
Most girls have not had a problem with acceptance by other students, or been the target of inappropriate comments while training.
“Nobody has ever bugged me about my clothing,” claims Huda. “The dance and SCC instructors are great.”
“I think people are accepting, but whether people accept it or not has never really impacted what I have wanted to do,” says Hanieh.