The State of the Game in the Middle East
A quick glance at Islamic and Arabic countries of the Middle East and North Africa, members of FIFA’S Asian Football Confederation (AFC) or Confederation Africane de Football (CAF), including Iran, Iraq, Oman, Palestine, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and Yemen, could cause one to forever write off any hope for the success of the women’s game in the region. Many of these countries have rigid views of women’s roles in society, such as ingrained perceptions of girls and women as second-class citizens, as well as proscriptions severely limiting communication between men and women. When you mix in rampant poverty and overlay religious restrictions affecting women’s activities that even determine unique rules of dress for sports, the barriers seem too great to overcome. Women players have faced verbal and physical abuse, prohibitions on their sport, and pressure to abandon the game—including from family members. Is it really worth the effort in these countries? The answer, according to those active within the game in the region, is an overwhelming yes. Despite the daunting obstacles, the potential in these countries is sizable but requires a different measurement standard than that used in North America or Europe.
FIFA’S latest global survey of players (The Big Count), conducted by Lamprecht & Stamm SFB AG, a Zurich-based research agency, shows that of the 265 million players in 2006 among its then 207 member countries, around 10 percent or 26 million are girls and