Sudan’s first female football stars push for women’s rights

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Sudanese woman football player Orjuan Essam (C), 19, takes part in a training session at a stadium in the Sudanese capital Khartoum on November 20, 2019. (AFP)
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Sudanese women football players take part in a training session at a stadium in the Sudanese capital Khartoum on November 20, 2019. (AFP)
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Sudanese women football players take part in a training session at a stadium in the Sudanese capital Khartoum on November 20, 2019. (AFP)
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Sudanese woman football player Rayan Rajab, 22, takes part in a training session at a stadium in the Sudanese capital Khartoum on November 20, 2019. (AFP)
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Sudanese women football players take part in a training session at a stadium in the Sudanese capital Khartoum on November 20, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 08 December 2019

Sudan’s first female football stars push for women’s rights

  • Sudan was once a football pioneer, joining FIFA in 1948 and co-founding the Confederation of African Football
  • Women were at the forefront of anti-Bashir protests, expressing anger against centuries of patriarchal traditions and laws

KHARTOUM: Within months of Sudan’s first women’s football league kicking off, the championship’s emerging stars are being hailed as icons for equal rights in a country transitioning to civilian rule.
Orjuan Essam, 19, and Rayan Rajab, 22, of Khartoum-based Tahadi women’s club, have scored several goals already in a tournament that would have seemed unlikely when autocrat Omar Al-Bashir was in power.
“I was thrilled to see that authoritarian rule was finally turning into civilian and that women’s rights could now be achieved,” said Essam, her long hair flowing freely as she trained at a stadium in the capital.
Sudan was once a football pioneer, joining FIFA in 1948 and co-founding the Confederation of African Football with Egypt, Ethiopia and South Africa at a meeting in Khartoum in 1957.
But women’s football faced an uphill battle after the country adopted the Islamic sharia law in 1983, six years before then-brigadier Bashir seized power in an Islamist-backed coup.
Bashir’s 30 years of ironfisted rule ended in April after he was ousted by the army in a palace coup following months of protests, triggering hopes that more liberal, pro-women policies would emerge.
Women were at the forefront of anti-Bashir protests, expressing anger against centuries of patriarchal traditions and laws that severely restricted their role in Sudanese society.
Sudan is now ruled by a joint civilian-military sovereign council, which has been tasked with overseeing the transition to civilian rule as demanded by protesters.
Last month the new authorities scrapped a decades-old public order law, which primarily targeted women for “immoral acts.”
During the rule of Bashir, thousands of women were flogged or fined under the law.
Today, the launch of women’s club football is seen as a much-needed boost for women’s rights in Sudan.
Essam, who plays left midfielder for Tahadi, said the world would now know that Sudanese women are not just “meant for raising children and doing household chores.”
“Women’s rights are much more than that,” she said.
Rajab, wearing a track suit at the practice session, said the tournament was the best thing to have happened to Sudan, showcasing the country’s talented female footballers.
“We badly needed it,” said Rajab, whose aim is to score in every match.
“Hopefully, I will become a professional player overseas and return to the Sudanese team, if they choose me to represent Sudan in the next World Cup,” Rajab said.
For Essam, who reads the Qur'an every morning and wants to become a dentist, football remains a hobby.
Since the championship began on September 30, both players have won praise for their positive team spirit, with Sudanese newspapers splashing their photographs on the sports pages.
“I play as a striker... Orjuan is a left midfielder. We coordinate and make passes to each other,” Rajab said.
Their coach Ahmed Al-Fakki said the two always have a countermove to any plays their opponents make on the field.
“Their goals speak for them, they were very beautiful goals,” Fakki said, as Rajab dribbled the ball behind him.
Essam and Rajab say they owe their new-found glory to understanding parents.
Essam said her father, a football enthusiast himself, is her biggest supporter and personal coach, often correcting her mistakes during training.
“Women are now competing with men at all levels, they are even taking ministerial positions,” said her father, Essam Al-Sayed, who is a banker.
Rajab took a liking to football at a young age, mostly playing with her brother.
“My parents had no objection, they kept telling me to push on with sports,” she said.
With the success of the league and the attention the two girls have brought to the championship — which has 21 clubs participating — organizers now want to tap more talent.
“We have convinced the ministry of education to open schools for training girls in football, and we have contacted FIFA to help bring football to young children,” said Fakki, who is also involved in organizing the league.
Essam and Rajab, however, remain special to him.
“Orjuan and Rayan are capable of becoming professional footballers,” he said.
“I tell them to show the world that Sudan has talent and it is only professional players who can help develop the sport.”


Grizzlies roll past Bucks 119-106, reach West play-in round

Updated 14 August 2020

Grizzlies roll past Bucks 119-106, reach West play-in round

  • The Grizzlies (34-39) tied for ninth place in the Western Conference with Phoenix, but advances to the play-in round because it owns the head-to-head tiebreaker advantage over Phoenix

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida: With their season on the line, Jonas Valanciunas and Ja Morant teamed up to make history and keep the Memphis Grizzlies’ playoff hopes alive.
Valanciunas and Moranth had triple-doubles, Dillon Brooks scored 31 points and the Grizzlies beat the Milwaukee Bucks 119-106 on Thursday to wrap up a spot in the play-in tournament that will determine the eighth and final seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
This marked the first time in franchise history that two Grizzlies had triple-doubles in a game. The team effort helped the Grizzlies bounce back after losing six of their first seven games since the NBA returned from a 4 1/2-month layoff.
“I’m happy that we responded,” said Valanciunas, who had 26 points, 19 rebounds and 12 assists. “We showed character. We’re not going home. We’re going to fight until the last second.”
Dillon Brooks added 31 points as Memphis never trailed while capitalizing on the fact Milwaukee was missing Giannis Antetokounmpo. The reigning MVP was serving a one-game suspension after head-butting Moritz Wagner in a 126-113 victory over the Washington Wizards on Tuesday.
The Grizzlies (34-39) tied for ninth place in the Western Conference with Phoenix, which beat Dallas 128-102 on Thursday. Memphis advances to the play-in round because it owns the head-to-head tiebreaker advantage over Phoenix.
Memphis now faces Portland (35-39), which earned a spot in the play-in round by edging the Brooklyn Nets 134-133 on Thursday night.
As the No. 9 team, Memphis must beat Portland two straight times to advance to face the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers in the first round.
Memphis hasn’t been to the playoffs the last two years after making seven straight postseason appearances from 2011-17.
“It’s great to see in a meaningful game that our guys just stuck with it,” Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said. “We’re going to need that on Saturday — even more and more and better and better.”
Valanciunas earned the game ball after getting his first double-double in his 559th career NBA game. The 28-year-old Valanciunas’ previous career high in assists was five.
“I’m definitely going to keep that ball for a long time to show my kids that Daddy did it,” Valanciunas said.
Morant had 12 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists.
This marked the first time two teammates posted triple-doubles in the same game since Miami’s Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler did it Dec. 10 in a 135-121 overtime victory over Atlanta. Valanciunas and Morant are the 12th pair of teammates to post triple-doubles in the same game, including the postseason.
Brook Lopez scored 19 to lead five Bucks in double figures. Frank Mason had 18, Donte DiVincenzo collected 17, Khris Middleton 14 and D.J. Wilson 12.
This game was meaningless for the Bucks, who already had clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference for a second straight season. But it meant everything for the Grizzlies and Jenkins, who was an assistant on Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer’s staff last season and previously worked for him in Atlanta.
It was quickly apparent which of these two teams had the most incentive. Memphis led by as many as 23.
“You’d have to be head in the sand really deep to not understand everything that was at stake today,” Budenholzer said. “Taylor and his group have done such a great job this year. They earned it. They played well today. They were sharp. Guys really stepped up.”
TIP-INS
Bucks: Starting guard Wesley Matthews missed a second straight game with a sore right adductor. Budenholzer remains confident that Matthews will be ready for the playoffs. “We feel like everything’s in a reasonably good place,” Budenholzer said before the game. “Probably just smartest not to push it today, give him another day or two. We don’t expect it to linger or be a problem past today.”
Grizzlies: Morant ended the regular season averaging 17.8 points and 7.3 assists. The only rookies in NBA history to average at least 17 points and seven assists are Oscar Robertson (1960-61), Magic Johnson (1979-80), Isiah Thomas (1981-82), Damon Stoudamire (1995-96), Allen Iverson (1996-97) and Trae Young (2018-19). ... Valanciunas has collected at least 10 rebounds in seven straight games, the longest active streak in the NBA. ... Memphis was the designated home team. Former Grizzlies Tony Allen and Zach Randolph were included among the team’s “virtual fans” in the arena.
MIDDLETON JUST SHY OF 50-40-90
Middleton shot 5 of 13 and was just shy of becoming the ninth NBA player to finish a season shooting at least 50% from the floor, 40% from 3-point range and 90% from the foul line. He ended up shooting 49.7% on field-goal attempts, 41.5% on 3-pointers and 91.6% on free throws.
UP NEXT
The Bucks will face the Orlando Magic in the first round of the playoffs starting Tuesday. The Bucks swept four regular-season meetings with Orlando.
The Grizzlies move on to the West’s play-in tournament.
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