Football dream alive for every girl… and parent

March 19, 2023
Football dream alive for every girl… and parent

Dr. Ghadeer Talal Melibari

Seeing your child playing in the Premier League, the World Cup or the Olympics used to be football dreams parents had for their sons in other countries.

Maybe in major soccer nations such as Argentina, Brazil, Italy or Spain. But never really here.

It seems almost surreal that not only can we now have these ambitions in Saudi — but we can have them for our daughters as well.

When I was growing up, my parents had many hopes that I would live a happy and fulfilled life.

Maybe becoming a professor was something they would have liked for me.

But I don’t think even in their wildest dreams would they have imagined watching me run around a pitch, kicking a ball with hundreds of other girls, pursuing a career in sport.

This is what struck me when my own daughter attended a camp for the newly-formed national under-17s team, and had a wonderful experience.

Like all parents, I always imagine what my children can achieve in life — but instead of hoping for success in academia, I was now picturing her scoring a winning goal in a cup final or singing the national anthem in a Saudi international jersey.

The explosion in women’s sport means every young girl in the country can dream, as can every proud parent like myself.

Of course, only a select few make it to the elite level, but that is merely the pinnacle, and only a very small part of this wonderful new movement that is growing all around us.

The opportunities created are enormous for every girl, no matter what their ability is.

For me, the pleasure was in simply seeing my daughter excited, passionate and enjoying being involved in the beautiful game.

It was also the awareness she is now part of something far bigger — football is wonderful exercise with incredible health benefits, gives women the chance to work as a team, and it fosters amazing friendships, some that will last a lifetime.

While only 28 were eventually selected for the squad, more than 300 players took part in the trials in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam, giving my daughter the chance to meet many people she would never have come into contact with, who have enriched her life in many ways.

For example, coach Stella Gotal has managed Croatia’s national sides, while technical director Monika Staab won many trophies in Germany, one of the great footballing nations.

How often do young adults get a chance to learn from such elite figures?

The knowledge they imparted to the girls was invaluable — not just in terms of football, but also about women achieving in sport and life.

It was truly inspirational.

Other leaders, including Prince Abdulaziz Bin Turki Al-Faisal, Adwa Alarifi, Lamia Bahaian and Alia Al-Rasheed also helped make it an amazing environment for everyone.

This is just the tip of the iceberg though and what was happening at the camp is being replicated in some way on sports fields throughout the Kingdom.

Estimates suggest that through Vision 2030, over 200,000 girls now participate in sport each week.

Change has been swift — as recently as a year ago, people only cared about men’s sport, with women not on the radar at all.

But in February 2022, we had our first female international match, and in October last year, the first ever women’s Premier League match was played here.

While that game between Al-Nassr and Sama took place at Prince Faisal Bin Fahd Stadium’s reserve pitch in Riyadh, there are high hopes women will soon be gracing far bigger stages.

At the very top, the aim is the women’s FIFA World Cup within ten years — but the dream is alive for every girl no matter what her level.

Throughout the Kingdom, girls are playing football in school, and against other schools in a new league, with some of these attending a camp in Barcelona.

There were further opportunities to travel, with those selected for the first under-17 squad training in Kuwait.

The world is now the oyster of any young female footballer, who can dream of leaving school and signing for one of our Premier League teams.

And meetings with coaches from countries such as Germany and Croatia may not be confined to happening within our borders.

Women’s football is growing globally with the USA in particular having a massively successful and well-supported league.

There is no reason a Saudi woman, with all these building blocks in place, couldn’t have a brilliant career, traveling and seeing the world at the same time.

It is true that in many aspects of women’s football we are playing catch-up with other countries.

But in one, we are among the most forward-looking and leading the way.

When launching the under-17 women’s side, president of SAFF Yasser Al Misehal said in football, our national sides would be equal regardless of whether they are male or female.

Not just in terms of pay for appearing, but the pitches they train on, accommodation and equipment.

This illustrates what a powerful force football is for positive change, and how all of our daughters have such exciting futures, whether it is on the sports field or in any other career they choose.

— Dr. Ghadeer Talal Melibari, holder of PhD in English from University of Hertfordshire, UK, is currently working as Assistant Professor of English teaching at Umm Al-Qura University, Makkah

March 19, 2023
3 days ago

GCC Arbitration

3 days ago

Saudi Arabia: The emerging cultural powerhouse shaping global soft power dynamics

16 days ago

Avoiding contractual disputes