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In Mafraq, this 14yo female football player is losing hope

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Raghad Massaid, 14, is pictured in this undated photo in Mafraq Governorate. (Photo: Lina Shannak/Jordan News)

AMMAN — Ever since she was little, Raghad Massaid, 14, has been passionate about football, but these days, she is disheartened. The girl who once dreamed of playing with Jordan’s national women’s football team “has no motivation to keep on playing”, according to her father, Khaled Massaid. اضافة اعلان

Sitting next to her at their home in Manshiet Al-Sulta, a town in the northern governorate of Mafraq, her mother, Amal Shurufat, said that it was not common for girls to play football with boys in the street. She told Jordan News that people advised her against letting her daughter play, but she did not listen and told them “we trust Raghad”.

The minute her father saw her talent, he knew he would support her journey. He was only concerned about her safety because girls had “nowhere to play” at the time. Khaled admitted that one of her older brothers objected at first, but later changed his mind as “there was nothing shameful about playing sports”. Thanks to media coverage of female football players, people’s attitudes started changing, as they accepted that football is not exclusive to males.

In 2011, Nader Sharaa, Raghad’s trainer and a former football player himself, founded his own football training academy in the town and leased a playground owned by the municipality. Years later, he started training girls, inviting Raghad and her female peers to join the academy. They formed the first and only girls’ team in the governorate.

In a phone interview with Jordan News, Sharaa said that women’s traditional role in his local community has changed, but some stereotypes remain intact. While a woman “may become an engineer or a lawyer ... people do not accept that she can become an athlete, a national team player, or an Olympics player.” In his opinion, many organizations have worked with girls from the local community, but they haven’t conveyed the right message to their families that “continuity” is key to their success.    

Due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, all sports’ activities in Mafraq came to a halt. While Raghad, who studied online, said she had more free time to play, her official trainings at the academy were suspended. “I used to take her to the empty playground, she would run and play on her own,” said Khaled.

According to her trainer, the sports’ sector is a “very sensitive” one that was hit hard by restrictions, given that it requires physical contact. He added that the academy is funded by private donations, and has a small budget that barely covers rent, electricity, uniforms, and other necessary expenses to train boys and girls in his town.

While he was able to finally resume training for boys a few months ago, Sharaa said he needs some time “to bring the girls back”. He is aware, though, that Raghad and around 45 other female players need an opportunity that their governorate does not offer.

According to Sharaa, Mafraq has tens of football clubs, but none has a female football team. These girls “are waiting for an entity to support them and form a young women’s team”, said Sharaa, who bet that should they find this support, he can “present a team that qualifies for the women’s world cup in ten years’ time”.

Sharing the captain’s concerns, Khaled’s eyes are set on Amman, where clubs that “nurture female talents” are located. He said that “they may say Amman’s clubs are far, but the distance is not an issue as long as she is affiliated with an official entity”. He stressed that he “will never stand in Raghad’s way”, hoping his children would achieve a dream he once had but could not pursue.

In the early nineties, Khaled sought to join an official football club, but he was a member of the Jordanian Armed Forces (JAF) and could not be affiliated with any club as per the regulations at the time.

“I regret it because I found out that sports were not only a talent, but also an economic opportunity on a global level. If I had made it, my whole life might have changed. I might have become a professional player abroad,” said Khaled.

Raghad’s trainer can also relate.

Although he was born to a Jordanian mother, Sharaa has lived his entire life in Jordan as a “stateless” person. He hails from a tribe that depended on livestock for their livelihoods and did not value citizenship at the time. Unlike his paternal uncles, his father did not seek the Jordanian citizenship when it was granted by the state to other relatives. When he was young, he worked hard to join the national team, unaware that his legal status would be a barrier. Although he was technically competent for the team, the “10-digit” number he did not have was necessary.

He quit playing football but continued to train young boys and girls and encourage them to pursue their dreams.

“I don’t want what happened to me to happen to any of the people I know,” said Sharaa.   

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