Image by Jake SimkinImage by Jake Simkin
BY: CHUCK CULPEPPER
AMMAN, Jordan -- Root for them. Do it. Add them to the teams you follow ardently, the teams you follow occasionally, the teams you follow randomly when you're aimless on the Internet.
They have untold guts, an unusual chance at real historic significance and the unlimited appeal of demonstrating that the human will to play a game might just trump bigger forces, such as culture. Circle the planet at this moment, and they might be just about the best thing going.
They're the women's soccer team of Jordan, and if they can reach the 2015 World Cup in Canada, the effect might be incalculable. They would become the first Arab or Middle Eastern team to reach a Women's World Cup, and imagine the impression on generations of girls seeking big dreams and good health.
Actually, you don't have to imagine much, because Jordan, just for one country, has established grassroots programs for teen-aged girls. Rema Ramounieh oversees them nowadays and calls their pupils "lucky." Ask her how these days compare to the last generation, and she says, "Actually, we didn't have a last generation."
They began only in 2005 when, Ramounieh said, "It was 35 players in the whole of Jordan. We were really so happy that we had a national team … At that time, nobody knew anything about women's football."
With Ramounieh as goalkeeper and captain, positions she would hold until retiring after this momentous June, the fledgling Jordan team up and won the West Asian Football Federation tournament and, she said, "saw that we had a future."
The future found a hilt in June in Amman when, for the first time, Jordan qualified for the Asian Cup, which in May, 2014, will funnel five teams toward Canada. They did so in Jordan, on Jordanian TV. They did so in an environment that shows a fresh generation, thinking freshly about these matters.
"That's for sure," Ramounieh said. "Yeah, I see that back in past generations, it's quite difficult, because people in the past used to think we're not allowed to play football, and football is not for women. Now we find 25-year-old Jordanian men come and watch. They really respect us, and we see now our friends, our family, everybody coming to watch us."
It's embryonic -- about 2,500 fans saw them beat Uzbekistan to qualify -- but it's compelling in its nascence. Meet Arab women who play football, and you'll meet people uncommonly alive. You might end up thinking nobody loves a game any more. As pioneers, they're alongside women I met during a two-year stint in the United Arab Emirates, such as the Kuwaiti triathlete who trained in a jellyfish-ridden lagoon at a construction site, because she could not get access to a pool; Omani women who reported dramatic health improvements from taekwondo; and an Iraqi woman who trained for an endurance event by ignoring the stares along the roads of Mosul. All make a serious bucking of their cultures with, in most cases, the serious backing of their fathers, another fresh cultural wrinkle.
If you happen through Amman right about now, the sports focus is on Jordan's men's national team, as it readies for a home-and-home early this month against Uzbekistan, the winner playing a South American club for a World Cup slot. In that, Jordan will join eyeballs all over the world in the rough, rowdy whittling to a final 32 for Brazil. Yet a visible undercurrent here involves the women, who got good newspaper and TV publicity as they made off to Laos, to train for a tournament in Myanmar.
Said the Asian Football Confederation President Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, "The rapid development of the women's game in Asia has been shown in the success of teams like Japan, DPR Korea and China on the world stage, but what we have seen from the four qualifying groups for the women's Asian Cup this year is how teams from West Asia are starting to show significant improvement."
Palestine, Bahrain, Kuwait and Lebanon also have qualified among the 16 teams for Vietnam, but Jordan holds the highest seeding, at No. 5.
It also holds the highest expectations, on vivid display one night two years ago in Abu Dhabi. There, Jordan lost a regional tournament semifinal to Iran by 3-2, and the press-conference room happened to share a wall with their dressing room, making audible their extraordinary -- and commendable -- wailing.
How they did care.
As the aching sounds drifted almost uncomfortably into the next room, their Dutch then-coach Hesterine de Reus said, "They are used to being the best team, so they are used to winning."
As she told the FIFA website when she left for Australia, "It is a young and skillful side and a promising team," adding, "There is great support from the federation."
"We really did some hard work," Ramounieh said, "and really wanted to do something about women's football in Jordan. We believe in it very much ... We still need more, but it's getting better." As in: "When you're walking down the street, people are talking to you about it and saying, 'We're very proud that you qualified for the final.'"
It's all because of something so simple, something mandatory when you're considering that some players double as students. As de Reus said, "The girls really love the sport, which is a powerful thing in itself."
Yeah, root for that.
On a Tuesday morning in June, Elham Asghari stepped into the tidal waters of the chilly Caspian sea in northern Iran to swim 20km in full Islamic dress. But her record-breaking nine-hour feat has not been recognised by national authorities because she is a woman.
By Nigar Orujova
The eighth elective general assembly of the Islamic Solidarity Sports Federation (ISSF) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia has decided to hold the fourth Islamic Solidarity Games in Azerbaijan in 2017, the Azerbaijani National Olympic Committee said on July 24.
The ISSF member states voted for holding the Islamic Solidarity Games 2017 in Azerbaijan at the Assembly.
The Azerbaijani capital put forward its bid to host the tournament in February. The tournament is due from June 23 to July 2, 2017.
A presentation about Azerbaijan was made during the General Assembly by Vice President of NOC and ISSF Chingiz Huseynzade, head of the international relations department and executive director of the organizing committee of the Islamic Solidarity Games Baku-2017, Kenul Nurullayeva, and NOC expert on international programs and member of the working group of the Islamic Solidarity Games Mehman Kerimov, according to the NOC.
As part of the General Assembly the "Baku-2017" book was presented. The book includes sections on the concept of the Games, a review of the political and economic situation, legal aspects, customs and immigration aspects, information about the environment and meteorology, finance, marketing, communications, sports facilities and competitions, residential areas, transportation, security, medical services and doping control.
A special video on the Islamic games was demonstrated to the participants and relevant booklets were distributed.
New staff of the ISSF for 2013-2017 was also determined during the event. Thus, Chingiz Huseynzade was re-elected as a vice-president of the organization for the next four years.
Kenul Nurullayeva became a member of the executive committee. This landmark decision on the membership of a woman in the ISSF executive committee was made for the first time since 1968, on the basis of structural changes.
Azerbaijan became the only country represented in the Islamic Solidarity Sports Federation by two representatives.
Moreover, it was decided to hold the General Assembly of the ISSF in Baku in 2015.
In May in Baku, ISSF Secretary General Faisal Bin Abdulaziz Al-Nassar said that the evaluation commission for the Games believes that Baku has all the suitable conditions for hosting the fourth Islamic Solidarity Games in 2017.
The Games, which will bring together athletes from 57 countries, will be held under the slogan "Solidarity is our power". More than 160 Azerbaijani sportsmen will participate in the Games. The Muslim religion of all athletes is not a pre-condition for participation in the competition.
The Islamic Solidarity Games is a multinational, multi-sport event involving the elite athletes of the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which is the second largest inter-governmental organization after the UN with 57 member states spread over four continents.
The first of the ISG tournaments was held in 2005 in Saudi Arabia with an Olympic-style tournament aimed at showing Muslim sports prowess and featuring 6,000 athletes.
Azerbaijan gained four gold, four silver and seven bronze medals at the first ISG, thus becoming the eighth country in the medal table.
The second event, originally scheduled to take place in October 2009 in Iran, and later re-scheduled for April 2010, was cancelled after a dispute emerged between Iran and the Arab countries. The third Games will be held in Indonesia this year.
BY: CHRIS STEVEN
Libya's international woman's football team, already under threat from religious extremists, has been banned from taking part in a major tournament next week by the country's sporting authorities.
In a move likely to raise questions about its commitment to equal rights, Libya's football association told the team it cannot fly to Germany on Saturday, citing concerns that it takes place within the holy month of Ramadan.
"The federation said you cannot play in Germany because of the need for fasting," said midfielder Hadhoum el-Alabed. "We want to go but they say you cannot go."
Libya had been due to play teams from Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Tunisia and Germany in Discover Football, a tournament funded by the German government. It is billed as the biggest gathering of Middle-Eastern women's footballers since the 2011 Arab spring.
El-Alabed, at 37 the oldest player in the squad and who played in Liverpool while earning a Phd in sports science, said the ban had shattered hopes that the fall of Gaddafi would bring social change. "Other teams can play [in Berlin], so why not us? If you could see the girls, when they were told, they were all crying."
After initially giving permission for the tournament, Libya's FA changed its mind. "It is Ramadan," said the FA general secretary, Nasser Ahmed. "We are not against women playing football."
It is understood German diplomats are working behind the scenes to provide guarantees that the 18-strong squad would be secure in Berlin.
Threats from Islamist radicals have already forced the team to train in secret, constantly switching venues and deploying armed guards.
In June Ansar al-Sharia, the militia linked by some with the killing of the US ambassador, Chris Stevens, in Benghazi last September, issued a statement saying it "severely condemned" women's football
"This is something we cannot have because it does not confirm with sharia law," it said. "It invites women to show off and wear clothes that are inappropriate."
Salim Jabar, one of Libya's most popular television preachers, has demanded the women's team disband, saying it was against the strictures of Islam.
"This team consists of tall, good-looking young girls, and that's the last thing this country needs," he said in a sermon broadcast from his Benghazi mosque. "For the first day that she [a Libyan woman] signed up for this team, she has sold herself and brought shame on her family."
Women's football was allowed during the Gaddafi regime, but only in reduced format with teams playing in gyms to be out of the public eye in this conservative Muslim country. Since the revolution the international team has been allowed to play 11-a-side, but its higher profile has made it a lightning rod for extremists.
"They [radicals] say to us you are no good, they intimidate us," says team captain Fadwa el-Bahi, 25.
At one training session, the location of which the Guardian was asked to keep secret, the team coach, Emmad el-Fadeih, said the women had already met strict FA guidelines. All play in head-to-foot blue tracksuits rather than shorts and T-shirts, and most wore the hijab.
El-Fadeih said the team had complied with FA rules that only unmarried women could travel to Germany, and then only if their father or guardian gave written permission.
"There are groups like Ansar al-Sharia don't want them, some people say football is not suitable for women," said el-Fadeih.
Fears of a backlash also saw team members refuse to be photographed for the tournament website. "They don't want their faces displayed," said Naziha Arebi, a British-Libyan filmmaker. "These women just want to play football."
El-Bahi, a geophysics graduate, insists nothing in the Qur'an bans women from sport. "The prophet (Muhammad and his wife used to run together and compete with each other."
She said the authorities should be highlighting the role women's football plays in fostering togetherness in a country wracked with militia violence. "This team is an example of reconciliation," she said. "We have former Gaddafi girls and former rebels, side-by-side."
Rights groups say the problems facing Libya's women footballers are part of a larger struggle by women who have struggled to win their rights. This month Libya's congress, dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood's Justice and Construction party, gave just six seats to women in a 60-strong commission formed to write a new constitution.
Tournament organisers say Libya's place will remain open. "We have heard that the football association decided that they are not allowed to go," said Discover Football spokeswoman Johanna Kosters "We will wait and see if they get on the plane."
Turkey, a country that sits on both the Asian and European continents, is governed by secular laws. It would be the first mainly Muslim country to host the Olympics if Istanbul wins in its fifth attempt.
BY: MINIVAN NEWS
The Maldives’ women’s basketball team refused to play without their headscarves, forfeiting the International Basketball Federation’s (FIBA) first under 18 three-on-three tournament held in Bangkok, Thailand earlier this week.
“The girls were really upset, we are as well. We came prepared based on the uniform the team wore in the last two games,” Maldives Basketball Association (MBA) President Ahmed Hafiz told Minivan News today (May 27).
“According to FIBA, the head cannot be covered during play. We have to go with FIBA rules if we want to play,” Hafiz stated.
The Maldives’ women’s basketball team has been allowed to participate in past tournaments while wearing burugaathah (headscarves), however the decision to make an exception to the rules “depends on the officials”, according to Hafiz.
“Qatar held a tournament two weeks back and there were some complaints that the Qatar team was wearing headgear, so FIBA was forced to apply the rules,” Hafiz explained. “Maybe that is the reason this issue came up for the Maldives [in this tournament].”
FIBA Asia has designed a jersey for Muslim players, but still needs to obtain FIBA international approval, according to the MBA.
“FIBA Asia is working on this because lots of Muslim countries are involved. Now the are suggesting to FIBA International to change the rules to allow headgear,” said Hafiz.
The Maldives’ under 18 women’s team is planning to participate in the upcoming Asian Youth Games, to be held this August in Nanjing, China, according to Hafiz.
“However, [the choice] is up to the players. We will not force them,” he said.
“This is a big problem for the game and will ruin the development of women’s basketball for a place like this, because there are still very few girl players and most wear the burugaa,” MBA Secretary General Arif Riza told Minivan News today.
“FIBA is pretty clear about the rules, so although the team has been allowed to play twice before, this was a mistake of ours also,” said Riza.
The primary issues of concern to MBA are that FIBA permitted the Maldives’ team to wear headscarves during tournaments in 2011 and 2012 as well as allowed other teams to play in violation of different dress code rules, such as wearing t-shirts instead of jerseys, according to Riza.
“Immediately after President Hafiz arrives [from Thailand] we will discuss the issue and write FIBA a letter,” said Riza.
“They should be allowed to have the right to play,” he declared.
The headgear ban is “a part of FIBA Rules, but not a policy,” FIBA AsiaSecretary General Hagop Khajirian told Minivan News Thursday (May 23).
“It has nothing to do with headscarves as such, but more to do with the regulations which stipulate that the playing gears of players has to be such that it may not cause any harm or hindrance to themselves or opponent players,” explained Khajirian.
Although these rules have “been the case always”, FIBA is currently reviewing the headscarf restriction.
“There have been requests from many nations regarding this. And the FIBA Asia Central Board, in its meeting [held] on April 24 in Kuala Lumpur, resolved to send a study paper to FIBA to be taken up for further consideration,” said Khajirian.
The choice to cover
While Maldivian women’s participation in basketball is slowly increasing, netballis popular nationwide. Although there are key distinctions between the two sports – such as no dribbling in netball – the rules are very similar, according to a skilled Maldivian netball player of nine years and student coach of six years.
“Wearing the burugaa while playing netball is no problem for us, it is not difficult and we’ve never experienced any injuries [from the headscarves],” she explained on condition of anonimity.
“Every person has the choice of whether or not they choose to wear the burugaa. However, it is a religious thing, in Islam Muslims have to cover, it is the right thing,” she continued.
“Although some are not wearing [headscarves], that is their choice,” she added.
The netball enthusiast agreed with the Maldives’ women’s basketball team decision to not remove their headscarves and forefit their game in the recent FIBA three-on-three tournament.
“Their choice was the correct one, they do not want to break religous rules,” she said.
“FIBA should change their rules if they want Maldivians to participate, because so many [women] are wearing burugaathah. They have to change so everyone can compete,” she added.
A senor researcher from the internatonal NGO, Human Rights Watch, previously highlighted the discriminatory issue of banning women from wearing headscarves, in a 2012 article “Banning Muslim Veil Denies Women a Choice, Too”.
“The sad irony is that whether they are being forced to cover up or to uncover, these women are being discriminated against. Banned from wearing the hijab – a traditional Muslim headscarf – or forced to veil themselves, women around the world are being stripped of their basic rights to personal autonomy; to freedom of expression; and to freedom of religion, thought and conscience,” wrote Judith Sunderland.
“Denying women the right to cover themselves is as wrong as forcing them to do so. Muslim women, like all women, should have the right to dress as they choose and to make decisions about their lives and how to express their faith, identity and moral values. And they should not be forced to choose between their beliefs and their chosen profession,” notes the article.
Muslim women’s basketball players in Switzerland and Baharain have also faced controversial opposition to their refual to remove their headscarves.
The Baharaini team was “lauded” for their refusal to remove their headscarves during an international competition in 2009, according to Gulf News.
Meanwhile, Sura Al-Shawk, a 19 year-old STV Luzern basketball player, was denied permission to play while wearing a headscarf by the Swiss basketball association ProBasket in 2010, reported the Associated Press.
ProBasket told the Associated Press it followed FIBA rules and that wearing the headscarf while playing basketball “could increase the risk of injury and the sport has to be religiously neutral”.
In July 2012, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA)overturned a headscarf ban, which was put into place in 2007, after a yearlong campaign led by FIFA vice president Prince Ali of Jordan, reported the Associated Press.