Shaima Sabri is one of many twelve year old girls in Saudia Arabia who dream of playing football in a football stadium in front of her family, including the male members. But at the moment, Shaima has to make do with playing barefoot with a frayed football and out of sight of men.
Yet, there is a glimmer of hope for all the Shaimas in the Kingdom. Ahmad Eid Al-Harbi, vice-president of the Player Status Committee for the Saudia Arabian Football Federation, which plays under FIFA, is quietly visiting university campuses to help women develop teams. He is anxious that his country become the eighth Arab state to have a female football team.
However, some Saudi women have beat this committee member in his intents to do something, and without government funding or permission, have gone ahead and set up their own football league.
One of the teams is the fledgling all womens Kings United Football Club in Jeddah. As far back as 2005 the team began playing in secret. In order to join, each player had to have a written consent from a male member of the family following the Saudi Arabian tradition.
Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, in his hesitant attempt to do something for the women of his kingdom, began to take an interest in the team and sponsored it until 2009. Despite his good intentions, he was not able to face the intense scrutiny that he received from the media coverage.
Today, the road continues to be fraught with obstacles. FIFA and the Saudia Arabia Football Federation do not formally accept the team. The founder of the club, Rima Abdullah, has been publicly criticised for her work. The religious conservatives, who hold a considerable sway over what is permissible, are totally against women playing football. Incredible as it may seem to European thinking, the Saudia Arabian society on the whole believe that football is a threat to the players’ virginity.
But despite all the critiscism and abuse received, these brave women continue their struggle to lay down the groundwork for all the Shaimas in Saudia Arabia.
To learn more about how women live in Saudia Arabia, view this interesting video.