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An Equal Goal

Walking onto the field to the cheers of 16,000 fans at their opening match of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Jordan 2016 was the moment that footballers Farah AlZaben ’17 and Jeeda Naber ’17 had always dreamed of. At Amman International Stadium, the crowd’s enthusiasm and pride was palpable as Jordanians demonstrated their support for their national team. Around the country, excitement had been building up for weeks as Jordan prepared to host the first major women’s football competition ever held in the Middle East.

It may have surprised some then that national fervor for a women’s football tournament was so great, particularly in Irbid and Zarqa, two of the three hosting cities, generally considered more socially conservative than the kingdom’s capital, Amman. In fact, the packed stadiums and excited crowds in these cities reflected true Jordanian spirit: both welcoming to visitors and iercely proud of their own.

According to Naber, the crowds in Irbid and Zarqa were amazing: “You could feel the enthusiasm they had for us and how proud they were of us; it felt special when we played there.”

Encouraging more girls to start playing football and promoting gender equity through sports was, to AlZaben and Naber, the main attraction of Jordan hosting the World Cup.

“During the World Cup we became an inspiration to younger girls to start playing football no matter what culture they come from here in Jordan,” Naber said.

“Last year we started coaching younger girls from public schools,” explained AlZaben. “We talked to them about how our lives changed after joining the national team and about our excitement for the World Cup.

Naber and AlZaben have been playing football since they were seven and 10 years old respectively. Their fathers, both avid football fans, encouraged their daughters’ love for the game, which eventually led to them both joining Jordan’s national team seven years ago, which is where they first met.

“I played lots of sports when I was young, and when I started playing football I really loved it because it was different for a girl,” said AlZaben, who started out playing at a youth football academy established by her father. “But we were only two girls on the team.”

An Equal Goal

Since joining the national team, Naber said that they have had front row seats to the changes taking place in women’s football in Jordan. “We saw how much more helping the girls prepare for the challenges of the World Cup. Headmaster John Austin and Deputy Headmaster and Dean of Students Julianne Puente were their biggest cheerleaders, encouraging them every step of the way. The girls became boarding students to reduce time travelling between school, practice and home, using the extra time to study and sleep. Their teachers also showed tremendous understanding when it came to schoolwork.

In case they needed further proof, they saw that the whole school was behind them at their opening match.

“Hundreds of King’s students and teachers came to our first game, all of our friends were there,” said AlZaben. “It was amazing; you could hear them cheering us from the field!”

According to Naber, being part of the national team, whose team members come from all corners of the kingdom and have very different cultural backgrounds and ways of living and speaking, has had a big impact on their lives.

“The nice thing about football is that it unites people,” said Naber. “I think that’s what we enjoy when we’re playing with different girls from all around Jordan. In practice we’re all the same, we don’t have any differences.”

As a team they faced many challenges together and stood up to society’s stereotyping of women, but they believe it was worth every bump in the road.

“A girl needs to be as strong as she can, no matter what drawbacks she faces,” said Naber. “If she believes in what she’s doing that’s all the matters. It doesn’t matter what she has to do and the challenges she has to face to achieve that dream. If she has something she wants to do, she shouldn’t give up.”