Today I asked Fiza, a 23 year old defender from refugee camp Mile, why she hoped to play for Darfur United. Her eyes shimmered as she said with confidence, “We want to be equal with men, there are many men’s teams but not the same amount for women.” Then, she paused and added, “We also want to show that we are able to play football as the men do.”
My head nodded in understanding, as I thought about the nuance of her statement. Fiza knows that having a women’s football team isn’t just to show that women have equal numbers of football teams as men, but most importantly, that they are equally able to play. As a female athlete, I felt connected to Fiza’s sentiments on ability. I can think of moments in my own soccer career and in professional arenas in which women are told that they can participate but will never dominate— they can be “the best female player,” rather than simply, “the best.”
Siema, an 18 year old midfielder from refugee camp Djabal, echoed similar remarks when she spoke with me about supporting the strength and power of women through football. She isn’t set on being the best female player in Djabal, she wants to be the “best player around the world.”
These conversations were on my mind as all the Academy coaches, men and women, trained together this afternoon. We were covering foot skills that require patience and time to master. After each skill, I selected a player who had grasped the movement well to demonstrate in front of the group. More often than not, it was a female coach who had the spotlight. I didn’t select them simply to make the drill equal in ratio of men and women, rather, I selected them because they showed equal, if not better, ability.
When I watch the women train and interact with one another this week, all I see is confidence, power, and strength as they proudly take the field while seamlessly and simultaneously continuing their roles as mothers, caretakers, coaches, and community leaders. They know they are not limited in ability, in life or on the pitch— and thanks to platforms like the Darfur United Women’s Team and Refugees United Soccer Academy—they can help the rest of the world see it too.