JEDDAH: Tala Al-Ghamdi is making up for lost time. Not only for herself, but for all Saudi female footballers.
The launch of the Women’s Football League (WFL) in November 2020 brought together 600 players from 24 teams in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam, finally giving Saudi female players the opportunities and recognition they deserve on a national level.
In a short period of time, Al-Ghamdi, who plays for Jeddah Eagles, the winners of the inaugural WFL, has become one of the game’s most promising talents.
Her passion for football and her determination to see women’s football advance in Saudi Arabia began when she first kicked a ball at the age of six.
“I was always into sports, it was a part of my family as well,” said Al-Ghamdi. “We watched various local and international sports tournaments in the country. But, specifically, it was football that I enjoyed the most when I was playing with my relatives, even though girls were not encouraged to be involved with sports. When I was younger, I played with my cousins and the boys in the neighborhood.”
Determined to pursue a career in the sport she joined Jeddah Eagles at the age of 19, where she was given the opportunity to play in the Jeddah Women’s League. Today, three years after joining the team, Al-Ghamdi is competing in the first WFL.
“In my childhood, when we played with the boys they used to put the girls in the position of goalkeeper, but I trusted my abilities and skills, which I believed were good enough for me to be part of the team,” she said.
Al-Ghamd admits that without the support of her parents, she wouldn’t be where she is today.
“When I was young, I just imagined playing football. I continued playing until academies and women’s football competitions started being organised in Jeddah.”
Today, while Al-Ghamdi is thankful that the wider society has changed to the extent that it accepts women’s football, she feels that there is room for more support.
“There’s a lot to be done, honestly,” she said. “The grassroots and younger teams are going in the right direction. Mainly, we need to first accept women’s football culturally. We have all the facilities, the government allows us to play the game and the leadership is supportive, providing all the facilities. But it would make a world of difference if the whole country got behind the game.”
Her ambition is to eventually represent her country at regional and international tournaments. While the Saudi Arabia Football Federation has yet to set up a women’s senior national team, she says she would continue to contribute to the growth of the game and make sure she reaches her personal best.
“For me, the dream would be to play for the Saudi national team,” she said. “But realistically, I really wish to see Saudi women’s football get to the level it deserves. We are on the right path and, if we continue working hard, we will get there.”
Al-Ghamdi has called for the support of women’s football to match the ambitions of Saudi female players who are currently playing in the WFL.
The future is certainly looking brighter on that front with recent developments at continental level that should have a positive impact on the game inside the kingdom.
The latest AFC Women’s Club Licensing criteria are part of the AFC Club Licensing Regulations (Edition 2021), which were ratified by the confederation’s executive committee in January and are expected to have a similar game-changing impact to that on the men’s game, with a focus on sporting, infrastructure, personnel, administrative, legal and financial requirements.
This opens up the possibility of Al-Ghamdi and other Saudi female footballers participating in the newly announced AFC Women’s Champions League, set to kick off in 2023, and which promises to become Asia’s premier women’s club tournament.
“This is very encouraging news and I hope to represent my favorite club, which is Al-Ittihad,” she said.
The 21-year-old right-back also revealed the local and international players she looks up to.
“My role model in world football is Trent Alexander-Arnold, the Liverpool player, for being the modern right-back, and my favorite local player is the rising star Saud Abdel Hamid from Al-Ittihad football club, as he also plays in the position in which I play.”
For now, Al-Ghamdi’s vision for the future of the game remains simple and inclusive.
“My dream is that any girl in Saudi Arabia should have the opportunity to enjoy sport to the maximum and to see the Saudi national team in international tournaments.”