Baku to host 4th Islamic Games in 2017

By Moni Mathews

Over 5,000 elite athletes for show in Azerbaijan capital

Preparations for the fourth Islamic Solidarity Games (ISG) in Baku from May 12-22, 2017, got off with a solid road trip start, when the event was formally announced at a media conference in Dubai at the Emirates Towers, on Tuesday.
The 57-member Islamic Solidarity Federation (ISSF) will hold the multinational, multi-sport extravaganza where over 5,000 athletes, some of them elite, are expected to participate in the Baku chapter.
Normally the passion sport of a region is included like badminton when the Games was held in Indonesia for the third edition. The 14 core disciplines - archery, swimming including diving, athletics, basketball, fencing, football, gymnastics, handball, judo, karate, table tennis, taekwondo, volleyball and weightlifting will again be the centre of attention during the fortnight.
During the announcement, ISSF secretary general Faisal Al Nassar and officials of Dubai-based Events Lab and MMC Sportz - Saeed Abdulghaffar Hussain, Nasser Tabbah, Samir Tabbah and Eric M. Gottschalk - inked the ISSF global marketing agreement.
Al Nassar said: "We are proud to confirm the fourth Islamic Solidarity Games (ISG) in Baku, Azerbaijan next year and we are proud to have such a strong city like Baku which has so much of international experience as a sports host. The signing of the agreement with Events Lab and MMC Sportz as exclusive sports marketing partners shows that we are totally proactive and professional in reaching our goals."
"For us, the partnership with ISSF is very prestigious and the joint venture with MMC Sportz brings forward a wealth of expertise in various types of dealings," said Samir Tabbah, Group CEO, Desert Gate Tourism & Events Lab.
Gottschalk, MMC Sportz CEO said: "When we presented the commercial framework for the 2017 chapter, it was well received since it was budget sensitive."
The first event was held in 2005 in Saudi Arabia where the nations of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference took part. Non-Muslim citizens in the member countries are also allowed to take part in the Games.
The second event, originally scheduled to take place in October 2009 in Iran, and later re-scheduled for April 2010, was cancelled. The third edition took place in 2013 in Indonesia. 
Forty one nations from the member-list represented at the Games in Palembang three years ago. During the 8th General Assembly of the ISSF in Jeddah, the Baku-2017 Bid Book was presented. The venue was unanimously voted and passed for the fourth chapter to be held in Azerbaijan in 2017. 
Source: http://www.khaleejtimes.com/baku-to-host-4th-islamic-games-in-2017

Muslim ‘girls only’ swimming sessions ripple Danish waters

While the swimming club has hailed the move as a "recipe for integration", politicians and commentators have criticised the concept as being against Danish values.
The girl-only sessions, which also take place with windows and doors to the swimming hall blacked out, were set up in response to religious and cultural requirements put forward by parents, reports Berlingske.
The newspaper reports that 246 girls of non-Danish ethnic origin between the ages of five and 12 have begun attending swimming lessons at the hall since the sessions were introduced.
“We have gone from zero to several hundred girls in three years, and have successfully established a swimming option for a specific group, which would otherwise find swimming difficult to access because of religion,” Lars Sørensen, the director of Hovedstadens Svømmeklub (HSK), told Berlingske.
A 2011 report by the Danish Sports Association (Dansk Idrætsforbund) showed that 28 percent of ethnic Danes were members of sports clubs, compared to 18 percent of non-ethnic Danes.
Sørensen told Berlingske that encouraging young Muslim girls to take part in sport - while keeping with their own religious practices - strengthens both physical wellbeing and integration amongst the girls.
“Many of these girls come here and meet role models from their own neighbourhoods standing on the poolside in the coach’s jersey,” said Sørensen. “At the same time, they learn to swim, which gives safety, fitness and well being.”
Sørensen added that the club did not consider the introduction of segregated lessons an extraordinary measure.
“It is just a condition [for taking part], just as some people swimming in 50 metre lanes and others swimming in 25 metre lanes,” the pool trainer told Berlingske.
“We are the second biggest sporting association in the country, so we think it’s our responsibility to offer a considered range of swimming lessons,” he added.
But the City of Copenhagen's deputy mayor for culture and leisure, Carl Christian Ebbesen of the Danish People’s Party (DF), told Berlingske that creating segregated swimming sessions for Muslim girls was bad for integration and “destructive” for Danish culture.
“It is completely crazy to meet these demands. There is a desperately short supply of swimming pools, so we shouldn’t be closing them down by putting curtains in front of the windows and signs saying ‘just for girls’ just to meet the demands of religious fanatics,” Ebbesen said.
The DF politician said that Muslim girls were welcome to take part in sports clubs, but that this must be done on the same basis as everybody else.
“We must go to the parents via our integration policies and explain to them that we cannot meet their special requirements,” Ebbesen told Berlingske.
“They must send their girls to sport and other activities like everyone else. Every time we meet these demands, we are destroying the society we’ve worked so hard for,” he continued.
Rikke Lauritzen of the left-wing Red-Green Alliance (Enhedslisten), who is responsible for municipality financial support for community projects in Copenhagen, said that Ebbesen should “relax a little bit” and called the swimming initiative “super cool”.
“The most important thing for me is to get children from all backgrounds involved in clubs and associations of all kinds, so that they can be part of the democratic development process that this entails,” Lauritzen told Berlingske.
“It’s super cool, that so many children have begun swimming in Tingbjerg, because it shows that it works when we provide funds for development. I would therefore like to congratulate HSK on its success,” she continued.
Lauritzen also pointed out that single-sex swimming lessons are not an extraordinary sight.
Source: http://www.thelocal.dk/20160427/muslim-girls-only-swimming-sessions-ripple-danish-waters


    Hijabs and Hat-tricks: Muslim women lead the field

    Growing up in Tallaght, Fadhila Hajji loved playing football with her brothers.
    Kicking a ball around the yard during her teen years was the perfect way to relax after a long day at school. Unfortunately, the headscarf or hijab she wore as a Muslim teenager meant she was unable to play matches with other girls.
    “It was very upsetting to me because I couldn’t express my passion for football,” says Hajji as she prepares for her weekly training in Phoenix Park on a grey, wet morning. “It was something I really enjoyed playing, something that I could use to blow steam off. Playing with everyone was just my happy time. I was really eager to join a team but couldn’t because of my headscarf.”
    In March 2014, football’s world-governing body Fifa lifted the ban on head covers during matches. This meant female Muslim players would have the option to cover their heads when playing.
    When Hajji’s brother Abdul-Rahman heard about Fifa’s decision to lift the ban on headscarves, he approached his sister with the idea of creating a Muslim women’s football team in Dublin. He was already an active member of Sports Against Racism Ireland (Sari).
    Along with their friend, Abdul, the three young soccer enthusiasts contacted friends around Dublin encouraging them to get involved in their “Hijabs and Hat-tricks” project. Diverse City FC kicked off training in March 2014 and, two months later, they made their debut at the Fair Play Cup on World Refugee Day.

    Weekly training

    Mahdiyah Ayub from Coolock has joined Hajji for the Phoenix Park training despite the incessant rain. The girls stamp their feet as they catch up on the week’s gossip, waiting for the session to kick off.
    Ayub was already a keen footballer player when Hajji called her in 2014 to join the new team. Before playing with Diverse City, she often removed her scarf for fear of sticking out on a pitch of non-Muslim players.
    “It was more I was uncomfortable in my own skin,” says the 17 year old, catching her breath after warm-up laps. “Knowing you’re the only Muslim, you try and fit in more with the other girls, so I took my scarf off.”
    The decision to join Diverse City has given her the confidence to play her favourite sport while wearing her hijab.
    “Since I’ve joined this team, I’ve been wearing it to my school matches, to clubs and everything. The team gave me more confidence to go out there . . . to wear my scarf, to be proud of being a Muslim. To be proud of my scarf because it’s part of my identity.”
    Wearing a scarf while playing sport is just like tying your hair back, says Ayub. “It’s also great because when it’s windy or raining you have an extra layer so your hair doesn’t get wet.”
    Amina Moustafa, who is in first-year science at Trinity College, doesn’t wear a hijab, but has many friends who were afraid to join teams because of their headscarves. She and her twin sister, who also plays on the team, were lucky enough to grow up in a household where sports was always encouraged.
    “My mam said when she was younger she was told not to play, that maybe it wasn’t for her. She didn’t want that for us so she encouraged us to keep going out.
    “She loved the idea that there was a Muslim girls team and it was promoting diversity and interculturalism in Ireland. I’ve done so much sport over the years and this is the best team for bonding together. Normally, you just play the sport and go home, whereas I feel when we’re playing there’s more of a connection between the players.”
    The girls are so enthusiastic about Diverse City they insisted on continuing training and playing matches during Ramadan – a period of the Islamic year when Muslims do not eat or drink anything between sunrise and sunset.
    “It’s a good distraction from eating,” says Moustafa. “You don’t even think about it. We were just thinking about how amazing it was that we actually won a match when we didn’t have any energy.”
    Azeez Yusuff, who coaches the team, says he was pleasantly surprised by how talented some players are. “All of them were good from day one when I first saw them – and now they’ve just totally developed which is absolutely amazing.”
    “It’s great to see everyone mixing together because people say Muslim women just stay at home and stuff like that. Here you can see they’ve proven them wrong.”

    Common sense

    Former Republic of Ireland football manager Brian Kerr, who sits on the board of Sari and has followed the Hijabs and Hat-tricks project with great interest, says Fifa’s decision to allow women to wear hijabs while playing was “common sense”.
    “Why should they have that restriction when in their culture they have to wear something to cover their hair?” he asks. Kerr believes Ireland’s decision to host the 2003 Special Olympics marked a turning point in attitudes.
    “Why aren’t we inclusive in sport for everybody? As long as people give it the best they can and we can provide those opportunities, it can be vastly satisfying for players, coaches and volunteers.”
    “A new population is coming into the country; a new diverse group with different religions and different cultural norms.”
    Fadhila Hajji is proud to have played a leading role in making competitive football a reality for Irish Muslim women in their teens and early 20s. In December, she received a People of the Year Award for her work with Sari in fighting discrimination through sport.
    “I feel proud. I feel like I have achieved something for the team, for myself and also for people around the world that feel inspired. I think it’s great that people from different backgrounds and ethnicities are getting together in one community and playing football.”
    Hajji believes Muslim participation in sport sends out a positive message. “Islam is not portrayed very well at the moment. People seeing the Muslim people doing something good, that’s what we need right now.”

    Source: http://www.irishtimes.com/sport/soccer/hijabs-and-hat-tricks-muslim-women-lead-the-field-1.2479670



    By Shireen Ahmed
    VICE is covering the launch of the Global Goals for sustainable development. In the next fifteen years, they want to achieve three massive tasks: end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice and fix climate change.
    This summer, as I was watching the thrilling Women's World Cup final between the U.S. and Japan, I got a direct message via Twitter from my friend, Sara. (Names of activists in Iran have been changed for the protection.) She was elated to be able to watch the match, too—she lives in Iran and was unable to watch much of the tournament. We chatted briefly about the match. I told Saher I was fortunate enough to have attended some of the matches at Lansdowne Stadium, in Ottawa, with my niece and my daughter. "I wish one day I can watch in a stadium," wrote Sara.
    Sara's message made my heart ache. Her words were laced with sadness from injustice, a feeling I know, even in Canada. For years, FIFA's ban on hijab denied me, along with millions of other women, any chance of playing football. Enduring that ban was painful, unnecessary and kept me from fully enjoying the sport I played for decades. The beautiful game is a huge part of my identity. It has inspired and invigorated me, and I was kept from playing. Yet, I had the freedom of attending matches in person.
    Sara lives in Iran, which since the 1979 revolution has banned women from attending sporting events at stadiums around the country. Hardline clerics insist that it is inappropriate to have women at matches, where they would unnecessarily be mixing with men outside their families, where the male players wear shorts, and where, the clerics say, there is often vulgar language and behaviour. Nonetheless, non-Iranian women are allowed to support visiting teams in Iran, and have freely attended games—one of the things that has made the ban more unbearable for those subject to it.
    For decades the ban focused largely on football stadiums (the most popular sport in Iran), but women were allowed to congregate and watch matches in public squares, which became popular during the 2010 World Cup. In 2012, before the EURO Cup, Iran extended the ban to include wrestling and volleyball matches and any area or stadium. Since then, men and women have been prohibited from watching matches together in public spaces, cafes, or restaurants.
    "No one should be able to eliminate half the nation from public places," Sara later emailed me. "But without any change to the law, they will not let us attend."
    To bar women from stadiums in a sports-loving country like Iran is a form of exclusion so perverse that it has propelled much action. Open Stadiums (also known as White Scarves) started in 2005 to draw attention to gender inequalities in sport and lobby against women being kept from public stadiums, and Sara has been a central figure in Tehran for the organization since the beginning. The activists of Open Stadiums organize petitions and lobby international sporting federations for support. At home in Tehran, when posters and placards have been restricted, they have resorted to printing the political messages onto their white headscarves to avoid any fracas with police. In 2009, Iranian laws on public protests tightened, and Open Stadiums and their allies went online and expanded their advocacy efforts. Identities of organizers in Iran are protected due to danger of persecution.
    The issue has even been the subject of films like 'Offside' (2006) by Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi. The critically acclaimed movie portrays the fictional struggles of six young female football fans who are prevented from attending a World Cup Match and are eventually detained. Panahi made the film hoping it would "push the limits in Iran and help women." Almost ten years later, Iranian women are still not free to enter Azadi Stadium.
    An Iranian soccer fan watching a match in 2006—not much has changed for women since then. Photo by Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA
    On June 20, 2014, British-Iranian student Ghoncheh Ghavami got ready to protest at Azadi (which means 'freedom' in Farsi), which was hosting a men's volleyball match. She was detained by Iranian authorities, and after 100 days of solitary confinement, she was sentenced to one year in prison. The case was a slap in the face to sports, athletes, and fans, and it grabbed the attention of major media outlets and Amnesty International; a petition for her release collected over 730,000 signatures. President Ary Graca of the Federation International du Volleyball (FIVB) issued a strong statement last November: "We never normally seek to interfere with the laws of any country. But in accordance with the Olympic Charter, the FIVB is committed to inclusivity and the right of women to participate in sport on an equal basis." The charges against Ghavami were finally dropped in April, and she returned to the United Kingdom.
    Days later, deputy Sports Minister Abdolhamid Ahmad declared that Iran would allow women into stadiums. There had been small steps from government officials to address the stadium ban before this year. In 2006, for example, former President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, a football fan, wrote to Iran's Physical Education Organization and implored them to allow women into stadiums. He unsuccessfully argued that women would improve the atmosphere at stadiums and welcome a more family-friendly space. Ahmadinejad did not have any support from FIFA at the time.
    The April announcement of the stadium ban reversal coincided with the news of abreakthrough in negotiations over Iran's nuclear program. Activists were hopeful that real progress had been made. Yet, women were still denied entry into Azadi Stadium to watch the six international matches hosted by the Iranian Volleyball Federation this summer. Despite pressure from Open Stadiums, FIVB did not comment further. Any politicized reasoning for keeping women from sport is enraging; more frustrating is international governing bodies of the sport who just release press releases and then disappear—orheads of federations whose disingenuous comments do not help.
    Iranian women have a few allies among the higher ranks of the international sports. Moya Dodd, a FIFA executive committee member, is a tireless advocate for women in football.
    As vice-president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), which has jurisdiction over Iran, Dodd is perhaps in a strongest position to put more pressure on Iran to truly open its stadiums. She has met with Iranian activists multiple times in recent years, including with a member of Open Stadiums during this year's Women's World Cup.
    "Football is the most popular sport in the world, and it plays a big role in setting the behavioural norms in society," Dodd wrote in an e-mail. "Excluding women from enjoying it as a live spectacle is not only unfair to those women as individuals, it's not only unfair to the game of football to reduce its audience, it's not only unfair to the development of women's football because women can't witness and learn from watching the those games - but the message it sends is that it's also acceptable to exclude us from society's mainstream activities. And that is a fundamental breach of human rights."
    Dodd was instrumental in lobbying FIFA after Iran women's national football team suffered a heartbreaking disqualification for wearing hijabs in 2011, and was unable to gain a place in the Women's World Cup. That prompted a two-year campaign that eventually resulted on FIFA lifting the ban on head-coverings in March 2014.
    Sara told me that Iranian feminists are in regular contact with Dodd and grateful for the solidarity she has provided. Working with grassroots activists is crucial in order to accomplish goals set by ....To continue reading, click here.
    Source: https://sports.vice.com/ca/article/stadiums-are-still-closed-to-women-in-iran


    By Shireen Ahmed
    "Hands Up... SCREAM," he shouted. "HANDS UP! Faster! Faster!"
    Konga blew his whistle and I jumped into fight stance, my hands protecting my face and head, trying to emulate his agility. I was panting and tried to keep up with the pace and the demands of the instructor. I faced Jihad, my 13-year-old daughter. Beads of sweat covered her forehead and her eyes were dark and intense.
    A few weeks ago, I committed to attending this self-defence session offered by Konga Fitness at Battle Arts Academy in Mississauga, Ontario, located just west of Toronto. It is one of the 20 self-defence workshops and sessions being offered for women in the last two months. After an alarming number of attacks on identifiable Muslims occurred in the Greater Toronto Area following the tragedies in Paris and San Bernardino, a few community members and organizations mobilized to offer workshops and self-defence classes.
    Islamophobia has reared its ugly head in Canada and a lot of women in the Muslim community were feeling particularly vulnerable, angry, frustrated and, yes, scared—I certainly was.
    Our instructor, Khaled Konga, yelled directions for our body positioning and sequences. We continued for another three minutes. When he was satisfied with our movements and our responses to his commands, we were permitted to take a water break.
    "Confidence. It is about confidence" Konga reiterated as we gulped, "You must be confident. You must be aware. You must use your voice!" His Egyptian accent dotted his directions. "You are strong. I am not going to teach you superman kicks and fancy punches. I am teaching you the basics so you can be safe. This is reality and function."
    Above all, he reminded us, screaming is imperative. I look over and see my child nodding in agreement. I was grateful that she was absorbing all of this. Some of the other participants were smiling and chatting intermittently but we both stayed in battle mode. This was important. We both knew it. 
    This session had about 30 attendees. All but two were women of colour. The majority of the women in the group were wearing the hijab. When I first brought up personal safety in the wake of an increase of attacks on Muslims, Jihad confessed she was more concerned for me since I cover and she does not. I realized that the best thing was for both of us to attend together.
    I am an identifiable Muslim woman. I wear a hijab. I have worn it for almost 20 years—by choice. That my decision to wear a headscarf could be a trigger for ignorant people to attack me is unsettling, to say the least. My daughter does not choose to cover. But she identifies as a Muslim and her name is unmistakably and unapologetically Arabic. I trust her but I feel burdened by an anxiety that she could be targeted because of her beliefs, her skin colour and even her name. Most of the victims of recent attacks have been young women. And some close to my home. As a result, some have decided to not go out at night as often. I don't blame them. But I opted for physical preparedness in case my daughter or I were ever in that situation.
    My friend Noor, who happens to be a black belt in karate and also a sexual assault prevention instructor, shared the information about Konga's free sessions, and I immediately registered for two spots. Jihad initially groaned and insisted that the wrestling sessions in our living room with her dad and three brothers were sufficient. But I wouldn't have any of it, fearing that Islamophobes and misogynists could unleash their ignorant rage on her. She would come to this workshop; if only for giving me and her father some peace of mind.
    I might have reconsidered when I saw how eager she would be to partner with me and attack me on Konga's cues. She was fierce and determined. "At least this attitude you giveme can empower you in something," I muttered to her. She rolled her eyes but we continued the drill.
    In between bouts of emphasizing the importance of spatial awareness and quick footwork, Konga reminded us that our main purpose was, in fact, not to maim aggressors but to get to safety. Our sharp responses of an elbow or a kick might only irritate or confuse a person attacking us. But it would give us that opportunity to get the hell out of there and get help.
    Jihad remained rapt with attention. She is used to physical demands of an athlete but this training is about awareness and smart decisions under pressure. We are told that ultimately we should practice these maneuvers until they become second nature. Constant awareness of the spaces we are in is so important for all women—Muslim, or not, and for all ages.
    Jihad was the youngest one in the session but victims of such attacks can be quite young. I think about this a lot. In the United States, one such victim was a girl in sixth grade and beaten by three schoolboys who shouted "ISIS" at her as they punched her.
    I want my daughter to be able to defend herself, and I will not always be there. Those thoughts weigh heavily on me. Young Muslims, who grew up on timbits and homogenized milk in Canada—the only home they have ever known—worry about their safety. Those young female Muslims cheer for the same hockey teams, volunteer at community hospitals and inhale poutine like any other teenager from Canada. But they worry about being targets of racist violence, which many in this country will never experience.
    "Mama, focus!" she snapped and then promptly pushed against my arms. I shook myself to attention and straightened my posture. The I re-engaged with her. She needs to see me learning and fighting. The information we received was mentally exhausting and physically demanding. My arms hurt and my calves are sore but I feel I need to continue.
    In every class, workshop or seminar I have ever attended, the instructors all underline how confidence is essential. A two-hour session is not enough to master all martial arts moves, but consistent training can certainly help. In one of our many conversations, Noor told me that, "Participants having a false sense of security is always a concern, but you want to ensure women understand martial arts is about having positive headspace." She adds that a sense of sisterhood is also strengthened by these initiatives. This is also an important lesson for my daughter to learn. I wish that personal and community development didn't have to be in the context of protection from violence, but it is her reality right now.
    Gendered Islamophobia is rooted in racism and misogyny. It is a constant in the lives of women. Misogyny has lurked in the true north strong and free for a long time. It is not something new to Canada. Our government just released an inquiry about over 1,200missing and murdered Indigenous women.
    With powerful Western figures like Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper having spewed hateful vitriol, the increase in anti-Muslim sentiment is notable. But we go forward. We practice that jab, that block, that kick to an attacker's groin, again and again.
    Konga wraps up the session lightheartedly and says: "This is just a small key. A key you can use to open the door and get out of danger."
    We grabbed a coffee with Noor after the workshop to decompress and discuss the afternoon. I didn't want Jihad to feel burdened with a reality that seems grim. But she ordered two pieces of cheesecake and was her normal self.
    Noor hasn't been attacked before, and I certainly hope both Jihad and I are also fortunate enough to never have to defend ourselves from a physical attack. Safety is not a privilege, it is a right. But sometimes you have to fight for it—you have to burst through the door to a safe space. And now at least Jihad has a key.
    All photos courtesy Konga Fitness
    Source: https://sports.vice.com/ca/article/the-key-to-fighting-gendered-islamophobia 


    Honey Thaljieh on TEDx

    Honey Thaljieh is former captain of the Palestinian Woman's football team and currently working at FIFA in Zurich. 


    Mumbra's Muslim girls kick out stereotypes

    By Kamayani Bali-Mahabal
    They started off as a secret sports club. What brought them together was their shared love for football, a game they couldn't dream of playing owing to their conservative family backgrounds. After all, how could young girls, who weren't even allowed to step out of their homes without the 'hijab' (veil), run around kicking ball in an open field? But they showed exceptional courage when they defied parental dictate to pursue their passion for the sport. Three years back, Sabah Khan, Salma Ansari, Sabah Parveen, Aquila, Saadia and 40 other girls got out of their homes in Mumbra, a small town 40 kilometres from Mumbai, Maharashtra, to play football. Today, this group that calls itself Parcham, inspired by Asrar ul Haq Majaz, an Urdu poet who saw women as crusaders with an inherent quality to revolt against exploitation and injustice, has truly lived up to its name. They have not only broken gender stereotypes by regularly playing football but have been responsible for bridging the gap between the Muslims and the Hindus in their communally volatile city. 

    Sabah Khan, the captain of this unique all-girls team, recalls how their journey of change began, "Around 2011, a bunch of us were approached by the NGO Magic Bus that uses sports as a means to help poor children lead a better life. They wanted to teach football to both girls and boys but we told them that in Mumbra Muslim girls cannot take up a sport let alone play alongside boys. That's when they decided to exclusively train girls who were keen to try out something they had only dreamt of."

    The target was to put together a group of 40 girls but that was easier said than done. "Most of us hail from families that struggle to make ends meet. We can never really spare time for fun and games. We study, chip in at home or work. That's why we were unable to personally go to motivate girls to join in. However, some of us decided to make pamphlets and distribute them outside girls' schools and colleges. Apart from that we also approached the local wing of the Maharashtra Mahila Parishad that works with several self help groups to see if any of their members would be interested in sending their girls for this programme. In this way, we managed to build a team," elaborates Sabah. 

    The next challenge was to find a ground to practice on. "We went to every school and college in the vicinity that had a ground to find out whether they would allow us to play for two hours every Sunday. Unfortunately, no one was agreeable," shares the articulate leader. It was a member of the Mahila Parishad, who spoke to a board member of a temple trust to secure permission for using the open space around it for playing.

    At the outset, the girls decided to call their team 'Parcham'. Aquila, one of the founding members, narrates the story behind it, "We decided to call ourselves 'Parcham' as we are inspired by Asrar ul Haq Majaz, better known as Majaz Lakhnawi. Through his romantic, revolutionary verses, Majaz urged women to look at the hijab not as a barrier but as a flag or banner. He has written: 'Tere maathe pe ye aanchal bauhat hi khoob hai, lekin tu is aanchal se ik parcham bana leti to achcha tha… (The veil covering your head and face is beautiful, but if you make a flag out of it, it would be better)'. We, too, have transformed something that many see as a sign of repression into a symbol of revolution." 

    Through sports Parcham strives to build a just and equal society that is respectful of diversity and celebrates difference and interdependence. Their mission is to empower marginalised communities to access their fundamental rights, creating spaces for dialogue among diverse sections of society. "And our one great achievement has been getting official recognition for our struggle to get a playground for the girls," says Aquila. Last year, after they started a massive signature campaign with the support of 900 girls from across Mumbra, their demand for a ground was finally acknowledged. Female students from various schools, under the leadership of Parcham, wrote a joint letter stating: "We wish to play football and other sports. We believe that through sports we also come together in unity, forgetting our religious and other differences."

    When they met with MLA Jeetendra Awhad he was amazed to see this strength of association. He told them that it was perhaps for the first time that 900 girls had got together to ask for a playground to be reserved for them. He also assured them of their very own space to play. "That promise was fulfilled and the football-loving girls of Mumbra are now able to practice freely. Moreover, the move gave a boost to our campaign that motivates girls and women to reclaim open spaces," states Aquila. Their dedicated practice sessions have fetched Parcham some rich rewards. They have won two major local tournaments - one in November 2013 and another in March 2014. 

    Of course, if the struggles of the group have been remarkable, then so are their individual journeys. Take the case of Saadia Bano (name changed). "When I had first heard about Parcham I immediately wanted to be a part of it. However, I did not have the courage to speak to my parents. I am not allowed to move from home without a 'hijab', so imagine them allowing me to play football! Initially, I used to step out every Sunday telling them that I was going to visit some friend. Then one day when I took my brother's T-shirt to wear for a tournament my mother immediately suspected that I was doing something without telling them. When she confronted me I had to confess to her and my sister."

    Saadia's brothers still have no inkling. "After I won a trophy at a tournament I told them that it was a friend's. There are many like me who cannot yet be completely honest with all their family members. We don't want to make them unhappy nor do we want our freedom curtailed. This way we all get what we want," she says. 

    Adds Salma Ansari, 22, who has supportive parents and is pursuing an MBA degree, "What we need is for the society to accept that girls have an equal right to public spaces; that they too deserve to experience the joy of being able to run free, kick a ball, hold a bat, sprint, jump or swim. Nowadays, we are trying to break gender stereotypes by training a group of 50 young boys and girls together." The religious divide, too, has been overcome with the inclusion of girls from other faiths. Simran, 15, the youngest member of the team, is a Sikh. "We have so many misconceptions about other religions. But perceptions and attitudes change when we meet and interact. Being in Parcham, I am learning about gender, equality, justice… Watch out, I am a feminist in the making!" she says emphatically. 

    What's next on Parcham's agenda? "We want to set up a resource centre for our girls, complete with books, newspapers, computers and a wi-fi network. Every Saturday, we plan to hold meetings where we can discuss the latest news and concepts like secularism and citizenship to enable everyone to think and form opinions on subjects they are passionate about. The centre will be a safe haven for Muslims and non-Muslims to build friendships," says Sabah. 

    In the home town of Ishrat Jahan, the young woman who was tragically shot in an encounter in Ahmedabad in 2004, these girls are gearing up to drive out prejudice and hatred. 

    —(Women's Feature Service)
    Source: http://www.kashmirtimes.in/newsdet.aspx?q=38270


    'It may take 10 years to tackle football's lack of diversity' - FA Council member Rimla Akhtar

    Five months ago, Rimla Akhtar became the first Muslim woman on the FA Council. In a body which Football Association chairman, Greg Dyke, says is “overwhelmingly male and white”, Akhtar is seen as the ideal role model for the Asian community.
    But, when I mention this, the 32-year-old chartered accountant smiles and says: “That’s up to others to decide.”
    She is one of six women on the
    121-strong FA Council, which helps decide major policy for the governing body, and her appointment comes at a time when the lack of diversity in positions of power within the game is a hot topic.
    Yesterday’s report by the Sport Person’s Think Tank highlighted the problem with just 19 of the 552 ‘top’ coaching positions at ­English clubs being held by blacks and ethnic minorities. The only bosses are Chris Powell (right) at ­Huddersfield and Keith Curle at Carlisle.
    “It is unacceptable that we have only two black League managers when something like 30 per cent of players within football are from the black community,” says Akhtar. “We need to see how we can open up football to more diverse managers. It’s a problem right across football, we also have very few black board ­members. Change does need to happen.”
    It has been suggested that football should adopt its own version of the NFL’s Rooney Rule, whereby clubs must  interview at least one black or minority ethnic candidate for a managerial vacancy.
    However, Akhtar says: “For me, ­quotas are a short-term strategy. I wouldn’t want to be selected for something because I’m a woman, because I’m Asian or because I’m Muslim. I would like to be selected on merit. I’ve had people really close to me, relatives even, that have said, ‘you do realise that you’re being included just because you wear the scarf’.
    “In the long term, it’s about making the sports environment more inclusive. That’s what’s lacking right now. We need to get an inclusive mindset as well as action on the ground.”
    Source: http://www.standard.co.uk/sport/football/it-may-take-10-years-to-tackle-footballs-lack-of-diversity--fa-council-member-rimla-akhtar-9853069.html


    Al Sadd wins Women's Handball Cup title

    Al Sadd won Qatar Cup title for the women's handball after beating Al Rayyan team today on 37-32 in the match that took place on Wednesday evening at Al Gharafa Club.
    Qatar Handball Association Ahmed Mohammed Al-Shaabi and Qatar Women Sports Committee (QWSC) President Ahlam Al Mana presented the championship trophy and gold medals to Al Sadd, and the silver medals to Al Rayyan teams.
    Source: http://www.qatarisbooming.com/article/al-sadd-wins-womens-handball-cup-title 


    Iranian female junior cycling team wins first Asian medal

    The Iranian female junior cycling team has created history in their country for winning
    Bronze in 2014 Asian Cycling Championship in Astana, Kazakhstan on Monday, making their
    mark in Asian cycling
    This win has also marked the first Asian Championships medal by Iranian female
    With this medal, Iran has received 6 medals, including 2 silvers and 4 bronze ones in the
    2014 Asian Cycling Championships.
    Photo taken from Josiah Ng’s Instagram: Follow him at @josiahcyclist
    Source: http://www.baikbike.com/iranian-female-junior-cycling-team-wins-first-asian-medal/

    Pakistani female Judokas to help Indian athletes prepare for Commonwealth Games

    According to Pakistan Judo Federation (PJF) secretary Masood Ahmed, the female squad received rave reviews at the South Asian Championship in Nepal in April. PHOTOS: MUHAMMAD JAVAID & ZAFAR ASLAM/ FILE
    Pakistani women may not be catching a ticket to the Commonwealth Games themselves, but they can certainly help their Indian counterparts prepare for the Commonwealth Games’ Judo competition scheduled for next month.
    The 10-women squad including South Asian Judo Championship gold medalist Humera Ashique, silver medalists Mariam Jabbar, Beenish Khan, bronze medalists Ambreen Masih, Shumaila Gul, Fauzia Mumtaz and emerging talent Aqsa Hussain, Rabia Babar and Iran Shahzadi will travel to Patiala in June.
    According to Pakistan Judo Federation (PJF) secretary Masood Ahmed, the female squad received rave reviews at the South Asian Championship in Nepal in April.
    Ahmed said that since Pakistan is not fielding a team at Commonwealth Games due to Pakistan Olympics Association and Pakistan Government conflict, the athletes will now help the neighbours to vie for the title in Glasgow in July.
    “Since we can’t go, we’ll help them, we are South Asian nationss anyway, it’s a great deal for both parties,” Ahmed told The Express Tribune.
    Ahmed said that the Indian official Mukesh Kumar invited Pakistani athletes to Patiala for the training sessions for 20 days.
    “It’s going to happen next month, we’ve been invited to Patiala where the Indian squad is preparing,” said Ahmed.
    “Kumar invited our female athletes because they are impressive, they’ve given a tough competition to the Indian, Nepalese and Sri Lankan judokas in the championship,” he said.
    Furthermore, he proposed that Pakistani women can come to the Indian national camp in Patiala, where they have the best facilities for the sports. Ahmed said that the practice with Pakistani athletes will help the Indian women improve for Commonwealth Games.
    “It will also be a great amount of exposure for our squad.”
    Ahmed added that the invitation means more than just an opportunity.
    “It is recognition of our talent by our counter-parts, and it’s welcoming. It’s an encouragement for our athletes that they are good enough and that their efforts are not going unseen. In many ways it is an honour and a great way to promote healthy relations between two nations,” said Ahmed.
    He said that the team’s visas are in the process and hopefully they will get the documents for travel on time, as the Indian Judo Federation is cooperating with Pakistan.


    Physical education for Saudi girls stirs debate

    A step to introduce physical education for girls at Saudi government schools has become the talk of the town in the kingdom, with many hailing it as a positive development and some slamming it as a threat to social values.
    Last week, the government advisory Shura Council called on the country’s education ministry to look into including sports for girls at state-run schools on condition that they are in line with Sharia rules on dress and gender segregation, according to the Saudi Press Agency.
    Meanwhile, Mohammed al-Saleh, secretary-general of the Higher Education Council, told makkahnewspaper.comMonday that the next move would be to recruit sports educators from abroad.
    A previous ban on physical education for girls was relaxed in private schools in 2013. The Shura Council’s demand last week to include state-run schools has been welcomed internationally both by the International Olympic Committee and Human Rights Watch.
    “It’s a good sign that Saudi authorities appear to realize letting all girls in Saudi Arabia play sports is important to their physical and mental wellbeing,” Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch told Agence France Presse.
    Al-Watan newspaper published a column on Monday with a title that read: “Would you marry a girl who practiced sports?” The columnist criticized and mocked opponents of the move.
    He quoted a two-year old study showing that three-quarters of the country’s population suffered obesity and 75 percent of the women are obese and that 80 percent of secondary diabetes cases were related to obesity.
    The article dismissed conservative voices that are critical of making girls play sports at schools. Some conservative clerics had denounced the move as a “Western innovation,” according to the Wall Street Journal.
    One cleric Abdullah Al Dawood even tweeted that “these steps will end in infidelity and prostitution.”
    Speaking to Al Arabiya News from Jeddah, veteran Saudi journalist Omar al-Mudwahi said there was nothing new in the clerical opposition to the move. “The religious institution has always stood against the advancement of women’s rights.”
    Abdullah Hamidaddin, a Saudi writer and commentator on religion and politics, wrote in a recent column on Al Arabiya news that the Shura Counci’s move “is not a decision about girls practicing sports. Nor is it one about women rights. This is a decision to push back the authority of the religious institution.
    “The easiest way to explain what happened is to say that there are zealots whose interpretation of Islamic scripture is misogynic and thus believe that the only option women have is to lie down and die. Thus the government decided to intervene and give women some hope of a natural life,” Hamidaddin added.
    Journalist Mudwahi noted that the plan to introduce physical education for girls in public schools is part of comprehensive government response to high obesity rates among women.
    “Municipalities across the kingdom are also creating long pedestrian walkways special for women especially after repeated health ministry figures showing high obesity and diabetes rates among women,” he said.
    “Previously all physical education centers are extensions of hospitals as if it is a disease, as if female sports is a disease and it is very expensive,” al-Mudwahi said.
    “As a man, it would cost me 300 riyals ($80) per month to go to gym. But it would cost my wife or my daughter about 1000 riyals ($266),” he explained.
    He noted that unlike universities, most schools in the primary and secondary education are not equipped with physical education facilities for girls.
    “This issue has been passed in the Shura Council, but the important question remains: Are our schools ready for such thing? Of course no,” he said. But within a few years, most schools are likely to have physical education facilities if there is a legal framework for girls to practice sport.
    The Saudi Shura Council move is seen as another step empowering women during the reign of King Abdullah, after appointing women into the legislative Shura Council and allowing them to practice different professions which weren’t allowed before such as law.
    Source: http://english.alarabiya.net/en/perspective/features/2014/04/15/Physical-education-for-girls-stirs-debate-in-Saudi-Arabia.html