Middle East soccer associations campaign for women’s right to play

Middle Eastern soccer associations have launched a campaign to put women’s soccer on par with men’s football in a region in which a woman’s right to play and pursue an athletic career remains controversial and at a time at which political Islam is on the rise.

The associations announced the campaign at the end of a two-day seminar in the Jordanian capital Amman organized by the West Asian Football Federation (WAFF) and the Asian Football Development Project (AFDP). Glaringly absent among the representatives of the 13 Middle Eastern WAFF members was Saudi Arabia where women’s soccer exists at best in a political and legal nether land as well as Yemen.

The campaign comes as women are demanding greater rights in a part of the world that has entered a period of dramatic political and social change. Popular revolts in the past two years have toppled the autocratic leaders of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, sparked a bloody civil war in Syria and prompted numerous other states to adopt policies designed to shield themselves against a wave of protest that is unlikely to leave any Middle Eastern nation untouched.

A statement at the end of the seminar chaired by FIFA Vice President and AFDP Chairman Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein defined “an athletic woman” as “an empowered woman who further empowers her community.” In a rebuttal of opposition to women’s soccer among some Islamists across the region and more conservative segments of Middle Eastern society the seminar stressed that women’s soccer did not demean cultural and traditional values.