“Gender equality in sport will come through directives”
“I discovered football when I was 7 years old. In Bethlehem, in my country Palestine. When I started, girls didn’t kick balls. Nobody accepted it. There was nothing for us. No teams, no coaches, no equipment. Nothing. But I insisted. In my world of barbed wire and forbidden access, football was a place of freedom and hope for me. At 14, I realized that it was much more than a sport; it was a means to change stereotypes, a way to affirm identity and bring about social inclusion. In 2003, I co-founded women’s football team in Palestine. The first in history. Two years later, we played our first international match and I wore the captain’s armband.
Today aged 35, I don’t play anymore after a series of knee injuries, but I haven’t left the world of football. I haven’t abandoned my fight for gender equality in sport either. I work at FIFA’s headquarters in Zurich. And since spring 2013, I’ve been a member of Peace and Sport’s Champions for Peace club which something I am proud of. I agreed to be part of it after having been invited to speak at the organization’s Forum in Sochi a few months earlier. I subsequently realized that Champions for Peace aren’t chosen according to the number of medals we’ve won or our impressive track records. It’s our personal journeys, our commitment and our actions that are important.
When I was younger, I fought for the recognition of women’s football in Palestine wearing a football shirt and boots. Today, I campaign under the FIFA label. But the message is the same. Football gave me an opportunity and now it is my job to give opportunities to girls and boys all around the world. . In Palestine, girls can now join clubs, have coaches and enter competitions. There has been considerable progress.
Nowadays, I pursue my fight from within an international institution, but I haven’t forgotten my ideals. Quite the opposite. At FIFA, we have a single platform to advance the cause of the women in sport. We have resources and influence. We can act on many levels, including educating young people. Still a lot of work to be done but the success and scope of the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France show that the wheels have begun to turn. We won’t go backwards any more.
So, what’s the next step? Equality for men and women in competitions, practice, and development. It needs to be written down in rules and regulations, but also it must be properly enforced. Sports organizations must include gender equality in their statutes and regulations. They must do it now, because change cannot wait. Sport will once again be able to demonstrate its power to change society and mentalities. I have never underestimated the power of sport – its champions and institutions – to succeed faster than politics. I can testify to this. The IOC recognised Palestine as a member in 1995, FIFA recognized the State of Palestine in its own right in 1998 and the United Nations granted Palestine observer status in 2012. A clear example of the transformative power of sport.”