BY FAY A.K.
It is easy to tell that there are numerous differences between a North American and a Middle Eastern culture, soccer being one of them.
For the longest time, soccer has been an international sport that brings people together. All throughout the years, both men and women have been rather interested in playing from a very young age. However, tradition and culture do raise questions regarding the validity of women participating this.
Descending from an Arabic background, I can easily state that women have had it easier in North America. Many leagues have been formed for them including the North American WPS, Women’s Professional Soccer., which then qualifies them to Women’s World Cup. The latest Women’s World Cup in Germany attracted about 850,000 fans to 32 matches, for an average attendance of more than 26,400, and the tournament will expand from 16 national teams to 24 teams when it’s held in Canada in 2015. The best players in both these leagues have been breathing soccer ever since they can remember. This is due to the fact that they have been greatly encouraged to participate in this sport by their direct family members.
However, this is not the case in the Middle East. In 2011, two Saudi women have established a women’s soccer team in the city of Jeddah in a bid to persuade the government to allow and support women’s right to engage in competitive sports in a country that officially bans women from competitive sports. This has been a challenge that women are facing for a long time, since women in the Arab world are perceived as caregivers only, rather than independent individuals who can pursue a career in whatever interests them.
“When we first appeared in public, we were attacked. One of the most vehement attacks against me was during a Friday sermon. The entire sermon was about Rima Abdallah as if I were pushing Saudi women towards promiscuity, or something,” Ms. Abdallah, one of the two women, said.
Their battle highlights the soccer pitch as a battlefield for women’s rights across the Middle East and North Africa, a part of the world where resistance to gender equality and women’s exertions in sports is deeply rooted. Physical education classes are banned in state-run Saudi girl’s schools and female athletes are not allowed to participate in the Olympics.
Fortunately, in the past decade or so, women in other parts of the Middle East such as the UAE have been recognized in sports activities inside and outside of school where they are allowed, and encouraged, to wear the headscarf to promote their religion, Islam. However, leagues are rather hard to form since it will raise controversy on whether or not women are allowed to participate in physical activities on a broader base.