Asian Games showcases growing Islamic participation in women’s soccer

Back in 1990, women’s football was introduced to the Asian Games for the very first time, with the men’s tournament having already featured since 1951 and regularly boasting over twenty competing teams. The number of women’s teams competing has steadily increased over the years but it’s only during the last decade or so that women’s teams from Islamic countries have begun to feature more prominently at the leading international soccer tournaments.

At the 1990 Asian Games soccer tournament in Beijing, there were just six women’s national teams competing and all were from eastern Asia. Whilst Islamic nations often made up more than half of the men’s teams competing at the event held every four years, there were no women’s national teams from Islamic countries until the 2006 Asian Games tournament hosted in Qatar. The men’s team of the host nation won gold but didn’t field a women’s team, though Jordan did become the first Islamic nation to send a women’s team to the tournament.

Asian Games showcases growing Islamic participation in women’s soccer
Image Source: @mvtnews via Twitter

At the 2014 Asian Games in South Korea, Jordan were joined by the Maldives as only the second Muslim-majority country to feature at the women’s tournament. At the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia, the host nation has fielded a women’s team whilst the Maldives return and are joined for the first time by Tajikistan, who only played their first ever women’s international in 2017 against Iraq, winning that game 1-0 in the AFC Asian Cup qualifying tournament.

Despite having boasted an international team since the mid-1970s and soccer being hugely popular in Indonesia, the women’s game has been disappointingly underdeveloped when compared to the men’s game. Nevertheless, that could change after the Indonesia women’s team ran out 6-0 winners against the Maldives in their opening match at the Asian Games, giving them a strong chance of qualifying for the next phase of the tournament. This will undoubtedly shine a spotlight on the women’s game and raise popularity throughout Indonesia.

In some countries throughout Asia and the Middle East, the involvement and participation of women in soccer still has a very long way to go, mainly due to cultural and religious structures preventing them from doing so, particularly in Islamic countries. However, barriers are gradually being broken in countries such as Saudia Arabia, where recent reforms permitted women to attend soccer matches for the first time in January 2018.

Certainly, this was a landmark moment for what is traditionally an ultra-conservative country. The growing popularity of sports in Saudi Arabia (and it’s accompanying online counterpart, sports betting – mostly due to foreign influences) is steadily changing opinions in the Kingdom for both men and women. Times and views are evolving in such countries, which brings hopes of greater participation for all people in the future.

Asian Games showcases growing Islamic participation in women’s soccer
Image Source: @ICHRI via Twitter

Meanwhile, changes and levels of inclusion appear to be slower in other countries. Quite bizarrely, even though women’s soccer has been very popular for several decades in Iran, attending men’s matches continues to prove highly problematic for female fans of the sport. Indeed, it was reported in May 2018 that a group of several women disguised themselves as men, wearing fake beards and wigs, to attend a top-flight match between Persepolis and Sepirdrood Rasht at Tehran’s Azadi Stadium.

Overcoming obstacles and breaking down barriers, and seeking a level playing field regardless of sex or religion, is something we understand all too well at Women’s Soccer United. Yet there are rays of hope that, step by step, the continuing growth of women’s soccer matched by the ongoing effort of both individuals and teams all around the globe, as cultures change and adapt, will be rewarded with the recognition the sport so richly deserves.

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