In Somalia, women defy strict rules to play football

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Somali football players of Golden Girls Football Center, Somalia’s first female soccer club, attend their training session at Toyo stadium in Mogadishu, on March 5, 2018. (AFP/Mohamed Abdiwahab)
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Somali football players of Golden Girls Football Center, Somalia’s first female soccer club, attend their training session at Toyo stadium in Mogadishu, on March 5, 2018. The sight of young women playing football is highly unusual in Somalia, due to societal pressures as well as fear of Al-Shabab. The Golden Girls Football Center which was founded by local NGO in 2017 and currently has about 60 players, has aim to provide opportunities for Somali women to play football hoping to encourage them, in the future, to be national women’s football team players. (AFP/Mohamed Abdiwahab)
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Somali football players of Golden Girls Football Centre, Somalia's first female soccer club, attend their training session at Toyo stadium in Mogadishu, on March 5, 2018. The sight of young women playing football is highly unusual in Somalia, due to societal pressures as well as fear of Al-Shabaab. The Golden Girls Football Centre which was founded by local NGO in 2017 and currently has about 60 players, has aim to provide opportunities for Somali women to play football hoping to encourage them, in the future, to be national women’s football team players. (AFP/Mohamed Abdiwahab)
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Aisha Alli, 25, a Somali football player of Golden Girls Football Center, Somalia’s first female soccer club, watches a match during a training session at Toyo stadium in Mogadishu, on March 5, 2018. The sight of young women playing football is highly unusual in Somalia, due to societal pressures as well as fear of Al-Shabab. The Golden Girls Football Center which was founded by local NGO in 2017 and currently has about 60 players, has aim to provide opportunities for Somali women to play football hoping to encourage them, in the future, to be national women’s football team players. (AFP/Mohamed Abdiwahab)
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Somali football players of Golden Girls Football Center, Somalia’s first female soccer club, attend their training session at Toyo stadium in Mogadishu, on March 5, 2018. The sight of young women playing football is highly unusual in Somalia, due to societal pressures as well as fear of Al-Shabab. The Golden Girls Football Center which was founded by local NGO in 2017 and currently has about 60 players, has aim to provide opportunities for Somali women to play football hoping to encourage them, in the future, to be national women’s football team players. (AFP/Mohamed Abdiwahab)
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Somali football players of Golden Girls Football Center, Somalia’s first female soccer club, attend their training session at Toyo stadium in Mogadishu, on March 5, 2018. The sight of young women playing football is highly unusual in Somalia, due to societal pressures as well as fear of Al-Shabab. (AFP/Mohamed Abdiwahab)
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Somali football players of Golden Girls Football Center, Somalia’s first female soccer club, drink water during their training session at Toyo stadium in Mogadishu, on March 5, 2018. The sight of young women playing football is highly unusual in Somalia, due to societal pressures as well as fear of Al-Shabab. The Golden Girls Football Center which was founded by local NGO in 2017 and currently has about 60 players, has aim to provide opportunities for Somali women to play football hoping to encourage them, in the future, to be national women’s football team players. (AFP/Mohamed Abdiwahab)
Updated 21 March 2018

In Somalia, women defy strict rules to play football

MOGADISHU: Shortly after sunrise, a group of young women arrives at a football pitch in Mogadishu, where they shrug off their hijabs — some changing underneath the billowing veil — to reveal their team kit.
Young Somali men stand nearby, some disapproving but all watching closely, as the women jog up and down, dribble a worn-out ball between colorful cones and do sit-ups, less than 200 meters (656 feet) from a heavily guarded security checkpoint.
The sight of young women playing football is highly unusual in Somalia, due to societal pressures as well as fear of Al-Shabab.
The Al-Qaeda linked Islamist group launches regular attacks in Mogadishu and considers forms of entertainment, such as football, to be evil, worse still if women are involved.
“It is obvious that we are scared despite the fact that we put on heavy clothes over our shorts and T-shirts (until) we get to the pitch. It is very difficult to walk normally with sports clothes — we never wear sports clothing in society,” said Hibaq Abdukadir, 20, one of the footballers.
She is among 60 girls, who have signed up to train at the Golden Girls Center in Mogadishu, Somalia’s first female soccer club.
Mohamed Abukar Ali, the 28-year-old co-founder of the center, said he was inspired to create the club after he realized that Somalia had no female footballers.
“We are... trying to make these girls the first Somali female football professionals,” he said.
However this is not an easy task.
“When the girls have to attend training sessions, we have to organize to pick them up and bring them here and back home after the session because they are girls and we think about their security,” said Ali.
“There are so many challenges, from security to lack of resources... but that will not deter our ambition to establish female football clubs in this country,” he said. “We believe it is the right time and we should have the courage to think differently.”
Many of the girls who have joined the club said they had always wanted to try playing football but never had the opportunity.
“I have been playing football for seven months, but my family has only known about it for two months,” said Sohad Mohamed, 19.
“I used to dodge my mother about where I was going because she would not allow me to play football, but at least my mum is okay with it now, even though the rest of my family is not happy.”
In Somalia, it is taboo for women to appear in public dressed in shorts, trousers or T-shirts, with Islamic scholars saying sports clothing is not appropriate Islamic dress for women.
The players wear tights underneath their baggy shorts, and cover their hair, but still face criticism for their dress.
“I come to watch them train but frankly speaking, I would not be happy to see my sister doing it, this is not good in society’s eyes because they look naked,” said Yusuf Abdirahman, who lives near the football field.
Mohamed Yahye, another onlooker, is happy to see women playing football but is also concerned about how they are dressed.
“I think there is nothing wrong with women playing football, the only thing they should change is the dress code, they need to wear something that is not slim-fitting. But as long as their body is not seen, they are in line with the Islamic dress codes,” he said.
However the Golden Girls are not fazed.
“My ambition is so high that I aim for the same progress as those female footballers who play for Barcelona,” said Abdukadir.


Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova to clash in US Open first round blockbuster

Updated 43 min 41 sec ago

Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova to clash in US Open first round blockbuster

  • Williams has dominated the Russian star in their head-to-head rivalry
  • Sharapova advanced by walkover against Williams in the fourth round at Roland Garros last year

NEW YORK: Serena Williams will begin her quest for a seventh US Open title and record-tying 24th Grand Slam victory against long-time rival Maria Sharapova in the US Open women’s singles draw unveiled Thursday.
Williams has dominated the Russian star in their head-to-head rivalry, winning 19 times with only two defeats, including their past 18 meetings, most recently at the 2016 Australian Open quarter-finals, although Sharapova advanced by walkover against Williams in the fourth round at Roland Garros last year.
Eighth-ranked Williams is looking to match the all-time record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles won by Margaret Court when the year’s final major championship gets under way Monday.
The 37-year-old American has dropped her past three Grand Slam finals appearances, including last month to Simona Halep at Wimbledon and last year to Japan’s Naomi Osaka at the US Open after a controversial game penalty for her tirade at umpire Carlos Ramos.
Tournament officials have said Ramos will not work any matches involving Serena or Venus Williams, who could not face her sister until the semifinals, being in the same draw quarter as Czech third seed Karolina Pliskova.
Serena was placed into the same quarter as Australian second seed Ashleigh Barty, the reigning French Open champion whose first match is against 77th-ranked Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan.
Top-seeded Osaka opens against Russia’s 93rd-ranked Anna Blinkova and could face a third-round date against 15-year-old American Coco Gauff, who eliminated Venus Williams in the first round at Wimbledon in a run to the last 16 in her Grand Slam debut.
Romania’s fourth-seeded Halep, coming off her second Grand Slam title, opens against a qualifier and could face a semifinal against Osaka, who defends a Slam crown for the first time.
“I’m looking forward to the experience,” Osaka said. “Everyone knows I love it here.”
Osaka retired in the third set of a quarter-final match at Cincinnati with a left knee injury but said Thursday she expects no problems with playing at the US Open.
“It’s geting better. I’m a fast healer,” Osaka said. “I’m here and I feel like I’ll be able to play.”
Osaka said while she might watch players who are unfamiliar, she isn’t one to analyze the draw beyond her next opponent.
“I like to know what that one person I’m playing is,” she said. “I like to focus my attention on that one.”
Pliskova, who lost her only Grand Slam final to Germany’s Angelique Kerber at the 2016 US Open, plays her first match against a qualifier.
Venus Williams, 39, won the 2000 and 2001 US Opens but hasn’t won a Slam since her fifth Wimbledon title in 2008. She opens against China’s Zheng Saisai and could meet fifth seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine in the second round.