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.”


Riyadh to host inaugural Saudi international cycling race

Updated 22 January 2020

Riyadh to host inaugural Saudi international cycling race

  • This new race represents an exciting organizational challenge, a coherent sporting event for an entire category of riders

JEDDAH: Sports chiefs are gearing up to announce the Saudi city venue for a new international cycling race set to take place in the Kingdom.

Chairman of the Saudi General Sports Authority Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal is expected to reveal on Thursday that Riyadh will host the five-stage Saudi Tour 2020 from Feb. 4 to 8.

The inaugural edition of the 2.1 category race is being staged by Amaury Sport Organization (ASO), the organizer of the world-famous Tour de France.

Details of the route in and around the Saudi capital were due to be released during a press conference at Riyadh’s Digital City.

The cycling event precedes the Tour of Oman (Feb. 11 to 16) which is facing cancelation following the death of Sultan Qaboos.

ASO chief executive, Yann Le Moenner, said: “We are involved in the emergence of a new racing scene in the Middle East, which corresponds to the riders’ demand at the beginning of the year.

“The creation of the Saudi Tour and its sustainable installation in the calendar is part of this movement. This new race represents an exciting organizational challenge, a coherent sporting event for an entire category of riders, and a nice opportunity for the television viewers who follow the race to discover new landscapes.

“This is also, for us, an occasion to contribute to the development of cycling across the Kingdom,” he added.

Saudi Cycling Federation chief Sabah Al-Kraidees said it was an “honor” to have the inaugural Saudi Tour, noting that the event would help to promote the Kingdom as a tourist destination.

“The Saudi Tour is a great opportunity to publicize the country’s varied territories and historic sites and to let visitors discover our sense of hospitality. This initiative fits perfectly with the ambition of Saudi Arabia to promote the Kingdom beyond its borders through sports and especially cycling,” he added.

The five-day event will feature stages in the hills around Riyadh and on urban circuits.

The Kingdom recently began issuing tourist visas after travel to the country was largely limited to pilgrims, business travelers and resident workers.