Egyptian female athletes playing a final match in the first Ramadan championship for women’s football last month at the Gezira Youth Center - Nabil Sedky/US Embassy in Cairo Egyptian female athletes playing a final match in the first Ramadan championship for women’s football last month at the Gezira Youth Center - Nabil Sedky/US Embassy in Cairo

Women on the Ball

Sun, Jun. 9, 2019
CAIRO - 9 June 2019: The social stereotypes attached to women playing football have never been a barrier to female footballers in Egypt who choose to not only wave a red card at detractors, they’ve even gone on to make history. Breaking the mold and making Egypt proud is Sarah Essam, who made headlines last year when she won the Goal of the Month. The 18-year-old player joined Stoke City Ladies football club to become the first Egyptian woman to play in the UK as a professional footballer.

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Egyptian female player Sarah Essam joined Stoke City Ladies in 2017 - Photo from Stock City Ladies website


The road was never easy for Essam as her family did not believe in her dream, but after pursuing her passion for football beyond borders, she has become an inspiration for many girls her age striving to prove their talent and to direct the attention of officials to women’s soccer in the country.

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Egyptian female athletes playing a final match in the first Ramadan championship for women’s football last month at the Gezira Youth Center


Laila Sherif, who plays for Wadi Degla Football Club, started playing football 10 years ago in Dubai, where she says there was no difference between boys and girls playing the game. “But when I came to Egypt, I found this stigma exists; however, I kept playing,” the 15-year-old player says. Decrying the discrimination against women in football, Sherif disagrees with people who claim that football needs strength that only men possess: “If they watch women playing football, they will find them as strong as men in their style,” she argues.

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Egyptian female athletes playing a final match in the first Ramadan championship for women’s football last month at the Gezira Youth Center


Encouraged by her father to pursue her dream as a football player, Dana Nadda, 14, shared the field with boys when she first began playing the game. “They were surprised, and some were angry and could not accept the idea of a girl playing with them,” says Nadda who along with Sherif took part in the first Ramadan championship for women’s football last month at the Gezira Youth Center.

With the FIFA Women’s World Cup around the corner, two U.S. women’s soccer stars, Linda Hamilton and Tiffany Roberts led a coaching workshop for female players and their coaches from the Egyptian women’s Premiere League teams. Joined by retired U.S. soccer star Jeffery Alan Agoos, the three Americans were visiting Egypt as part of the U.S. Department of State’s Sports Envoys program, in partnership with the Ministry of Youth and Sports.

“Our partnership with the Ministry of Youth and Sports demonstrates a shared commitment to empowering women and girls through sports, and we look forward to more successful collaborations in the future in different sports like basketball,” Thomas Goldberger, the Chief of Mission and Chargé d’Affaires of the United States in Egypt, stated at the event.

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Thomas Goldberger, the Chief of Mission and Chargé d’Affaires of the United States in Egypt attending the final match in Ramadan championship


Speaking with Egypt Today about the future of women’s soccer in Egypt and how it can become popular in a country like in the U.S., Goldberger believes “we will see it in Egypt one day too … I think it’s natural as Egypt’s sports develop, and girls are enthusiastic about playing, as they get older, they will be more and more competitive.”

According to FIFA Women’s rankings, the Egyptian Women’s National team has officially dropped off the list in June 2018. The team saw their best ranking in the past three years in December 2017, coming in at 74th place. However, it fell back three places in March 2018, which was the last time it was featured on the FIFA list.

Winning three championships with her team, Coach Shaimaa says that the Egyptian women’s football league comes at the tail end of the priorities of the Egyptian Football Association, while the men’s football league takes the lion share of support in terms of hosting training and championships. “There are many girls who deserve to be known for their talents. How can they be known unless they play matches and engage in championships?” asks Shaimaa who before starting coaching girls three years ago was a football player for 20 years. “Sports are for everyone; men and women alike,” she says, adding that “women play sports everywhere around the globe, and we can see strong women prominent in sports in Africa today. Sporting in general is good for girls.”

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Egyptian female athletes playing a final match in the first Ramadan championship for women’s football last month at the Gezira Youth Center

Shaimaa attended the US coaching workshops and was impressed by their advice on dealing with female athletes in the field in several situations. “They explained that when girls mistake in the playground, we should not scream at them, because it affects them psychologically and negatively impact their performance.”

“Every human being deserves respect, and sports are great to teach lots of life lessons …in addition, you want women to play football because it teaches them about teamwork, helps them with self-confidence, empowers them to be leaders in the community, which will help the country as well,” says U.S. coach Tiffany Roberts, a sports envoy for the sports diplomacy program for the US Department of State.

Describing the collaboration between the US Embassy Cairo and the Ministry of Youth and Sports as a “wonderful idea” and a positive step toward empowering women in sports, Roberts, who is also the head coach of the University of Florida women soccer team, also cited the importance of the family unit in breaking down the stigma, and encouraging social acceptance for women in football. “I am half Filipino, and the family culture in the Philippines is very strong, my mother did not grow up a culture where they really care that women play sports, they were more about dancing, TV and entertainment. . . . It was difficult for my mother in the beginning to understand but now she sees all the wonderful gifts the sports have given,” she says. My family was very supportive of my decisions and my passion, and it is taking me all around the world, it is giving me my job, and helping me meet my husband and it has been my life . . . and these are the benefits that sports give both men and women, and so hopefully in family culture it will be accepted and that’s where it can start,” Roberts adds.

Here in Egypt, traditional perspective are changing too states Minister of Youth and Sports Ashraf Sobhy. “Football is a very popular game in Egypt, but people’s interest may be focused on the Egyptian Premier League and the Egyptian League First Division.” Even so interest in developing women’s football has been rising recently. “The ministry’s vision is based on empowering all talents of all genders. We have a program called ‘Thousand Girls, Thousand Dreams’ that selects talented women in Upper Egypt.” The program aims to teach a total of 1,000 girls in Upper Egypt and underprivileged cities the basic skills of football, in cooperation with the British Council, he adds.

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Egypt Today's editor interviews Sports Minister Ashraf Sobhy


The current cooperation with the US Embassy is the first of its kind in sports, aiming to bring US coaches to train coaches in Egypt. In other sports the ministry has rolled out two projects named the “Olympic Champion” and the “Talents Program” that prepare talented people in weightlifting, squash, fencing, athletics, taekwondo, judo, boxing, table tennis, handball and basketball. The combined budget of both projects is LE 34 million and Sobhy reveals there are also plans to develop sports schools in cooperation with the private sector, in addition to promoting team sport through the Egyptian Sports Federation for Universities.



 
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