School girls dream of playing football for the UAE

A lack of female footballing role models is a problem but the growing number of young girl footballers in the UAE still dream of representing their country.

Girls from the Al Yasmina School, left, and the British School al Khubairat play in a football tournament played at Al Yasmina School in Abu Dhabi this week. Five girls' teams took part in the competition.
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ABU DHABI // The triumvirate of enthusiastic girls from Cambridge High School's Under 11 football team had no hesitation in naming their heroes.

The names of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Ronaldinho rolled effortlessly off the tongue when they were asked to pick out their idols.

But when Rania Brahim, Sara Medhat and Reem Yahya, who are all from the UAE, were pushed to name one female football player they admired, they looked quizzically at one another.

There was no mention of Marta, the Brazilian who is a five-time winner of the World Player of the Year award, or Kelly Smith, the gifted England forward.

Reem had heard of a Palestinian female player but could not remember her name. The conversation then quickly turned back to Ronaldo, the Real Madrid forward, as they took a break from competing in the Abu Dhabi District Primary School football tournament on Monday at Al Yasmina School.

A lack of female role models, it seems, is a problem for the growing number of young girl footballers in the UAE.

It makes their dedication to training and playing the game all the more impressive.

"It would be a lot better for us if, when we turned on the television, there was some women's football but there is absolutely none," Reem, 11, said."It would be great to be inspired by other girls doing well.

"Girls' football here in the UAE is so much better than it used to be. I was only four when I first got into football.

"I would watch my brothers play and thought it was amazing. But there were no teams and hardly any other girls played.

"There are a lot more girls playing football now in the country and the standard has got much, much better over the last few years.

"Tournaments like this one are great to play in and they happen all the time now, which is fantastic."

Sara concurred. "I got into football when I was eight but I didn't start by playing in matches like we do now," she said.

"There was nothing for us. All I did was play with my brothers. It's much better now because we have proper leagues and organised games."

Rania said: "We do play and train with the boys at school and it used to be that was the only chance we got to play football. Now there are our own leagues and we play against girls every week."

All three harbour ambitions to represent their country. The UAE women's team played their first international match a year ago, when they beat Palestine 4-2 in February 2010 and while it remains a minority sport in the country, anyone watching the competitive games in Abu Dhabi would realise these girls take their football as seriously as the boys.

The rising standard of the girls' game was evident in the Abu Dhabi tournament on Monday.

Of the five girls' teams taking part - two from Al Yasmina and one each from Al Muna, the British School al Khubairat and Cambridge themselves - every squad had players who were competent at passing, controlling and shooting. Their energy levels remained remarkably high despite running around for 40 minutes in the sapping heat.

"I have just scored a goal and now talking to a newspaper about football," Rania said. "This is the best day of my life."