A few weeks ago I came across a study done by a leading Australian research firm – Roy Morgan Research that revealed football as the most popular sport among girls aged 6 – 13 in the nation.
As pleased as I was while reading further, it wasn’t surprising, considering the attitude and immersion policies Western countries take in spreading the game towards the demographic. This eventually led to imagining if similar opportunities and enthusiasm would ever be realized in the Middle Easter region.
And as it is understood, there are several factors suppressing the growth of Women’s football in the region, with most of it ultimately pointing at a common theme – the delusion that women should not be playing football, or any sport, to that matter. However, progress has been made in recent years as nations like Qatar, UAE, Jordan and Palestine lead the way in not only exposing the game to women/girls but also displaying genuine efforts to take it to the next level.
Growing up in Dubai and going through the high-school football system, which barely existed as it does today, I had never come across any full-fledged tournaments that involved girls – we are talking about the 90’s.
Things are different now. Certain initiatives have been introduced to engage football with girls (at a grassroots level). A select few from them have been determined and successful in their efforts. Event management firm – Inspiratus – through their partnership with UAE based telecom giants Du, recently launched the DuFC initiative, which brings together youth from all across the UAE to compete against each other with an opportunity to “travel to train with your La Liga football heroes and play competitive games with La Liga’s best youth clubs” – Malaga, Sevilla, Cordoba and Cadiz.
Excitingly, also present in this experience, is a U-17 girl’s only league, which till date has featured 8 teams from Al Ain and 14 teams from Abu Dhabi with the Dubai and Northern Emirates phases yet to kick-off. The interest has been unexpected.
And the reason behind it was kind of personal for Inspiratus CEO, Hussein Murad.
“For me, it’s personal, I have a daughter who is a very good football player and as organizers of this initiative, we had to open up a category for girls. In saying that, we have seen the numbers of teams participating year on year since we began this initiative 2 years ago and the quality of football that the girls play is improving. Providing these young girls across the UAE with this opportunity to gain tournament exposure at international standards and in the safe environment that we create for them is the driving force in creating the girls group – to give them an equal opportunity to pursue their football dreams.”
The General Director of La Liga in the Middle East, Fernando Sanz had similar sentiments regarding this initiative.
“At LaLiga we support women in football and we have some great female players in our Primera División de la Liga de Fútbol Femenino. We fully support having the girls group under the UAE Schools Cup as it provides the girls across the UAE with the opportunity to play in a professional tournament. We hope to see more and more girls teams joining this initiative in the future and it would be great to see some of these young girls pursuing careers in football.”
As former Spanish and Madridista – Michel Salgado – who currently has a based in Dubai, is involved with Dubai Schools Cup tournament, it was ideal to understand how and whether he sees a genuine interest within the UAE in introducing the game to girls.
“Absolutely, providing these girls with an equal opportunity is critical. We have seen some great players on the girl’s pitches in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain so far and look forward to seeing them grow in the next few months leading to the finals in Dubai. It’s important to include the girls in an initiative like this which is setting the standards for youth football across the region. There is also an element of education in what we are doing which we hope will lead to more participation in years to come and the unveiling of some true talents on the girls side.”
But apart from the opportunity for these girls to play with peers from across the country, the most satisfying aspect of this would be see the parents come out and cheer for their daughters, which in the past could never been heard of.
“Its also a great opportunity for the parents to come out and support their daughters, and we have seen a lot of this in Abu Dhabi which is fantastic,” going on to add, “beyond the tournament, we have already had interest from national clubs in some of the girls and in time we hope to give the girls the opportunity to not only pursue careers national, but also internationally.”
Which we believe could translate into an opportunity for these girls to earn a scholarship in a country like the United States that has developed a rich history of producing accomplished female collegiate athletes though its various NCAA divisions.
All this would not be possible without the financial backing of generous sponsors who genuinely want to raise the profile of the game among women. Telecom giant Du’s Chief Commercial Officer – Fahad Al Hassawi, helped shed some light into this emerging interest in the women’s game.
“Women’s sport has been championed throughout the UAE for many years now with prominent sportswomen representing the UAE internationally in a wide variety of events that range from bowling to martial arts and equestrian sports. As a brand that believes in fostering all talent throughout the UAE, we wanted to provide a platform for all youth, regardless of their gender, to enjoy their favourite sport.”
Though the winning girls team will win a trip to England to watch a live Manchester United match at Old Trafford and train with Manchester United coaches, the biggest win for all of the participating girls is an opportunity to play and enjoy the game, something their predecessors never had until a few years ago.