17 Goals For Girls: It Is A Woman's Game, Tooby Helmy Sa'at
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The journey to greatness has never been an easy road. Trials and tribulations are to be expected and even deemed as a rite of passage for anyone with the desire to emerge at the top after proving their mettle.
17 Goals For Girls follows the Jordanian under-17 women’s football team in their quest to beat their rivals in the then upcoming 2016 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup to be held in Jordan. This documentary unveils the ugly truths that these young female footballers had to experience on top of the literal blood, sweat and tears they have had to shed and sacrifice along the way.
Great Dreams Demand Greater Sacrifices
Football is not just a sport. And, it certainly is not a sport that is positively associated with girls and women in the middle east. However, such negativity is not just limited to these young, ambitious and talented footballers. Their families, too have to deal with objections even within their immediate social circles before stepping outside into the world and having to deal with more backlash. Their supposed crime is for supporting these young footballers’ dreams.
“Leen’s story with football began in this neighbourhood…. And she played with boys more than she did with girls…. Leen went on her first training camp abroad when she was 10…. Her school principal objected to her participation. Her teachers, her uncles objected, our family and friends. But, I insisted that Leen goes on that trip, and the outcome was great.”
Leen Btoush’s father on supporting unleashing her daughter’s football talent during a pivotal moment in 2013. Leen goes on to become a midfielder for the Jordanian under-17 women’s football team, in 2016.
The reality is great dreams demands even greater sacrifices. And, the outcome when talent is nurtured and allowed to flourish, particularly for young women, they soar to be among the best. In Leen’s case, she was voted Most Valuable Player (MVP) in 2013. Unrestrained, Leen was able to achieve excellence in a sport deemed to be the exclusive domain of males. She became a sought after player not just in her neighbourhood but on the national stage.
Even if some of these teenage footballers are fortunate enough to have their family’s backing, support outside their immediate familial circle is still hard to come by.
A banter caught on camera between mother and daughter, Luna Sahlou (team captain) provides an illuminating look into her academic situation – frank, heartfelt peppered with disappointment and frustrations. The severe lack of support whenever she comes back from training abroad thus having to miss school for a few months and requiring a special arrangement is not welcomed. Though she is different from her average peers in having to juggle academics and representing her country in the football field on an international level. Instead, her school principal’s response has been one of a reductive approach to a nuanced set of circumstances:
“Whenever I got back from a camp abroad I would go to the principal’s office. I would tell her that I was back and I would ask if I could skip the exams to catch up…. And she told me that I was just like any other student and I could not not sit for the exams…. So, I told her that we are playing for the World Cup, do not I get some support for this? … It got me so exhausted to the point I got depressed. I just wanted someone to help me!”
Luna Sahloul, Team Captain of Jordanian under-17 women’s football team
At the same time, it is not just about dreaming of great things; it is also about putting those beliefs into action. As the obstacles are varied and seem to be never-ending.
These teenage female footballers have had to toughen up fast by developing certain coping mechanisms to protect themselves from pervasive social ills. Social nuisance that have morphed into almost socially acceptable annoyances in a patriarchal setting, from verbal sexual harassments through catcalling to being gripped with constant fear of commuting alone as young girls and women are vulnerable to attacks. This is what Al-Anoud Ghazi, who plays defense, has to deal with on a daily basis as she commutes to football practice by foot.
“I was not so confident in the beginning. I did not expect to play for the national team. Or, that I would have a future in Jordanian football because I have that deep fear of it. I used to be afraid of getting hurt. And everyone here thinks that football is for guys, not girls.”
Al-Anoud Ghazi, Defense for Jordanian under-17 women’s football team
We come to learn that everything is on the line for these girls, even more so for some than others. As playing for the national team comes with handsome financial rewards. Albeit, it does not begin to pay for what they have to go through while playing football, in and out of the pitch.
In addition, these girls learn that they are never really accepted as insiders though their family might have been more supportive. They are still perceived as outsiders based on gender. Even within the all-girls team, there are unique dynamics to be navigated such as pertaining to the wearing of hijab. It is a choice made at every step of the way, in other words, these young teenage girls have to grow up fast emotionally to be able to navigate their life decisions with maturity.
“Amman Little League was all boys and it was really tough because they would all sit together and share inside jokes and I would sit by myself, clueless.”
Jeeda Al-Naber, Right Wing for Jordanian under-17 women’s football team
“I was shy at first when I took off my headscarf when we headed to England. You know, from the girls. Especially those who wore the headscarf…. But then, I said I am free to do what I want. Whoever wants to talk will talk, but this is totally up to me. It is my misdeed and no one will pay for it except me.”
Anound Imad, Midfielder for Jordanian under-17 women’s football team
A Tapestry Of Friendship And Hope
Challenges abound every single day, no doubt; however, that does not mean they hang up their soccer cleats and walk away in despair. Moments of disappointments and anguish only serve to further strengthen their resilience and unwavering commitment to the sport.
A positive support network at home is always encouraging to watch.
“Her environment is supportive of sports. Me, her father, her grandfather, her grandmother, we all support sports. We believe a girl should play sports. She should be able to express what she loves, whatever it is. Even if it was football, and people think it is exclusive to boys. But no, this is something she loves and we gave her the freedom to learn it and play it.”
Jeeda Al-Naber’s mother
And, within the Jordanian under-17 women’s football team itself the path is not always lined with roses. Internal dynamics ranging from clash of personalities to as simple as English usage in communications surface challenges to building and sustaining an effective teamwork.
“When the team is split into cliques, it kind of frustrates everyone and makes us anxious, as it affects our decision[s] on who to pass the ball to…. And that really is not nice, especially in front of the fans…. So, I really hope … we become tighter and work hand in hand and do a really great job on the pitch.”
However, all is not lost as they keep their eyes on the prize. To make Jordan proud on the football pitch in whatever match. The blood, sweat and tears literally, together with a shared dream bonded them together.
“I used to argue with them a lot [her football team mates]…. And, then, as the years passed, we got closer and closer. And now, I only believe in friendships I have formed in this team.”
To be the best of the best, talent is not sufficient. Yes, resilience and a can-do attitude nurture talent over the long term. However, there needs to be a sustainable support system from the get-go. 17 Goals For Girls is about opportunities.
“I really hope I never stop playing for the national team.”
Though the historic chapter for Jordanian under-17 women’s football team has been written in the 2016 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup, what have the world learnt exactly about their potential and future?
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