Wednesday,26 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1309, (25 - 31 August 2016)
Wednesday,26 September, 2018
Issue 1309, (25 - 31 August 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Not just for men

Samah Zaki is an Egyptian woman who has broken all the rules and introduced female football coaching to Egypt, writes Omneya Yousry

Al-Ahram Weekly

Who said football is a boys’ only sport? The Women’s World Cup took place last year in Canada and was considered to be one of the biggest women’s competitions in sport in general, with the International Football Federation, FIFA, promising to make it available across the world on free-to-air channels. Female footballers were also making headlines in the news ahead of the 2015 World Cup throughout the world, everywhere that is apart from the Arab world.

In the Arab world, football is still often seen as a game for men only, unlike in European societies where football is a game for all.

However, all this may be changing, since some girls, still unable to be football players, have started to become football coaches instead. One such is Samah Zaki, a football trainer who also holds a Bachelor’s degree in foreign trade and an MBA in human development.

She began to play when she was six years old and later took many courses in football coaching and was licensed by the Confederation of African Football. Zaki began her journey as a coach at the Wadi Degla Sporting Club where she stayed for five years. Then she moved to the Real Madrid Academy in Spain and is now back in Egypt as a director at the Fox Academy.

Zaki started as a member of the Aviation Club Football Team. “I was one of the main forwards and later moved to the Interior Ministry team. Both teams advanced in the ranks of the Women’s Premier League, and I decided to turn to coaching.” However, her path was not a smooth one, and she faced difficulties due to a societal culture that didn’t always accept the idea of a female football coach.

The academy, which has branches in many popular youth centres, had difficulty convincing people that a woman could make a good football coach. “I still don’t understand why people accept the idea of a girl in a swim suit, clapping their hands when she obtains a championship, when they don’t want to see a girl wearing shorts and a T-shirt practicing football,” Zaki said.  

Community acceptance wasn’t the only obstacle Zaki had to face. The lack of financial or moral support was a hindrance as well.

“The media only reports on men’s football in the Arab world without even mentioning that women’s football exists. That’s why while many girls practice soccer for the love of it, many of them have to leave the game and search for another job because they can’t become professional,” Zaki said.

“Today we have about 40 female coaches in Egypt, but this is very few in comparison with countries like Tunisia or Morocco, let alone the European countries where there are technical committees consisting entirely of women.”

But such problems don’t only affect women’s football in Egypt. “I don’t consider football in Egypt to be a real game, as the country does not have the facilities to compete with Europe. The biggest proof is that many of our professionals fail abroad and have to return a few years later to Egypt. Football players in Europe train three times a day at least, while in Egypt they only train once. I also think that deep down too many Egyptian players do not really want to succeed, but instead are only really interested in fame and stardom,” she said.

Meanwhile, Zaki’s ambitions have few limits, and she wishes to expand women’s football in Egypt, making it more accepted particularly in the provinces. “I want to see women practicing football all over Egypt. On a personal level, I hope to take on more training courses outside of Egypt and the leadership of the national team of women footballers,” she said.

Women’s football has a longer history than many people might expect. There were a number of women’s clubs in the UK in the 1890s, and one in north London was reported to have attracted a 10,000 crowd to a game in the district of Crouch End. The town of Preston was the stronghold of UK women’s football in its early days. The famous Dick Kerr’s Ladies Club was formed there in 1894 and earned a lot of money for charity. Its match with St Helen’s Ladies on Boxing Day in 1920 had 53,000 people watching inside the Club’s premises of Goodison Park and thousands locked outside.

However, the UK Football Association (FA) banned women’s football from its clubs’ grounds, because of its view that football was “quite unsuitable for females” though this changed towards the end of the 1960s.

The Women’s FA (WFA) was formed in the UK in 1969 and within three years the first Women’s FA Cup Final and Women’s International had been played. The FA invited the WFA to affiliate in 1983 and ten years later established a Women’s Football Committee to run the women’s game in England.

Football had become the top participation sport for women and girls in England by 2002, and the profile of the women’s game was further boosted by the hosting of major tournaments in 2005 and 2012, England’s achievement in reaching one European final and two World Cup quarter finals, and the launching of a Women’s Super League.

There is still some way to go for women players in Egypt.

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