I'm a Footballer Who Happens to Wear Hijab -- I Didn't Need FIFA to Tell Me That

By: Shireen Ahmed

Here is my reality.
I have been contacted many, many times since March 1 when FIFA announced that IFAB formally overturned their decision to ban headcoverings on the pitch. 
Family, friends and colleagues have sent me congratulatory notes and news reports. 
Since July 2012, I have blogged, written and expressed happiness, hope, gratitude and sometimes frustration with this process.
One more step towards the pitch! 
I was elated. 
Women from all qualifying nations will attend the Women’s World Cup 2015 in Canada. My country. There will be women from Asia, Africa and from Europe. There will be women in hijab, in pants and in shorts.
As it should be. I was thrilled initially.  
Now, I am exhausted.
I am drained from the process. I lost time away from the sport I have know and identified with since I was a very young child.
It was a part of my identity. It was a part of my routine. It was a part of my life.
I have written and opined about FIFA’s stance. I have shared pictures of radiating women who love the game and who defy cultural norms to enjoy it. Those connected and inspired by it.
Got this beautiful picture from Lela Ahmadzai’s website.   This particular image makes me incredibly happy. My mother always taught me I could “be anyone and play anything”.   I hope young women all over the world hear that message at some point in their lives.  It doesn’t have to be football. It can be something they love and something they crave. Women’s Advocacy, Sport, Environmentalism, Hobbies but something. So that they know, and the world understands, that everyone has a contribution to make.  Women need that chance. And that encouragement.   Lela has captured the resilience and passion of the women in Afghanistan and their love for the beautiful game.  Do check out her amazing work: http://www.ahmadzai.eu/en/allgemein-en/a-wmans-goal  I watch this short film a lot. It reminds me of my privilege. I am very aware of my ability to play safely and teach my daughter the same.   I have posted it and will continue to post it again. And again. And Again.
And those who risk their lives to play it.
What I did not say was how I suffered from sheer resentment and difficulty when I was not allowed to compete. 
I am allowing myself to say it now. 
I longed for the the thrill of the sprint, and the rush of the challenge.
And the goal. The beautiful goal.
I even craved the hit of the post or the uncontrolled shot that went wide. 
I missed it desperately.
But I chose to cover for personal reasons and told myself my connection to my Creator was stronger than my connection to football.
What I didn’t recognize was those two connections were not mutually exclusive. 
I understand the anger and frustration of women who were told “NO”.Who were told “NO” by an organization that is supposed to create opportunity and advocate for the Beautiful Game.
I started wearing hijab in 1997. I played my last season in the fall. I was told I had to either “take it off on the pitch” or “wait until I was ready to commit fully to the rules of the game”.
There was no specific law against (that would come in 2007) it but nothing allowing it either.
I walked away from the pitch.
My heart broke. But I quickly wiped my angry tears with my hijab. It provided me tight comfort and strength against this sporting injustice.
I played pick-up. I played at picnics. At family gatherings. I played at any opportunity. I played against my husband. I played with my children.
But I was used to playing in leagues, in matches with referees and full of politics and drama. 
I remember watching one of my heroes, Zinedine Zidane hoist the World Cup over his head in glory in 1998.
It was the first summer I did not play.
His victory as a Frenchman of Muslim-Algerian descent was bittersweet for me. He was of my faith. But he was playing.
I practice his roulette anyway. Just in case I might need it someday.
Life went on. I cheered, I watched and I fooled around with a ball. I did not play regularly. 
After what seemed like several lifetimes, I found a league that would accept me. 
I went back hesitant and I went back happily.
I tasted the joy in the sweat rolling down my face.
I loved it. I stayed for years and then I found the courage to venture out and challenge this.
I found a club that agreed.
And I remember what I always knew: I was a footballer who wore hijab.
Not a hijab-wearing woman who played football.
Fast forward to 2014 when Jerome Valcke announced: "It was decided that female players can cover their heads to play". 
Muslim women *could* always play.
Now they are *permitted*.
How can I laud FIFA for striking down a law that should have never been implemented in the first place?
How can I be grateful for someone allowing me to do what I should ahve always been allowed do?
Why was I made to choose?
How can you choose between your heart and soul?
Thank God my daughter won’t have to face that choice.
Someone pointed this out to me: “funny how the west tells us that hijab is oppressive yet they use it to oppress hijabis by banning them from playing sports”.
That isn’t funny. It is horrible. 
Last year, I was sidelined from football due to what turned out to be a full blowout of my ACL . Being ripped away from the game in this manner was painful. But it was of my volition. I was injured in a match, while in play. My choice.
Being ripped from the game because a lot of white, privileged men decided it was dangerous for me and the sport was torturous. Their choice.
And it was unfair.
So, today I am not “happy”. I am disappointed that I lost time and energy.
My joy is tapered with simple relief. 
In future, I will not let it ruin other childhoods and affect and exclude people.
Football is for all of us.
It should always have been.

Source: http://footybedsheets.tumblr.com/post/78519986470/my-thoughts-hijab-on-the-pitch