Inclusion, excitement and a series of firsts in Jordan at U17 Women’s World Cup

The FIFA Women’s World Cup under 17 kicked off on Friday with several thrilling matches. Canada beat out a maiden Cameroon in 3-2 in their tournament opener. Germany edged out Venezuela 2-1 and Mexico blasted past New Zealand 5-0.

Host nation Jordan lost its opening match to Spain 6-0, but with Justin Timberlake entertaining the crowds at halftime and with legendary footballer Xavi Hernandez in the stands, the excitement was still palpable.

This is Jordan’s first appearance at a U17 WWC tournament–its first appearance at any level at a FIFA Women’s World Cup. It is also the first time that a women’s tournament of this magnitude has been hosted in the Middle East region. It is the biggest sports event to be hosted in Jordan. That it is a football tournament for young women is equally exhilarating.

And it doesn’t go unnoticed that some of the players on Jordan’s team wear headscarves.

Since the headcovering ban was formally lifted in 2014 by the governing body of FIFA: International Football Association Board (IFAB), hijab-wearing players have not had a chance to train properly and qualify for a major tournament.

Until now.

Team Jordan boasts a few players who choose to wear a hijab (a headscarf that covers the hair and neck) with a slightly modified kit–tights under the shorts and a long-sleeve shirt. Some of the players choose to wear a regular kit. This emphasizes that a woman’s place is on the pitch as is her ability to choose what she wants to wear as she plays.

It is no coincidence that Prince Ali bin Al Hussein, a former FIFA Vice President, is head of Jordan’s Football Association and was chief organizer of the campaign that pushed to allow hijabs in football. The possibilities and the potential of Jordanian female players of did not evade him–nor the support of a group of women including Moya Dodd of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC)–who is now running for a seat on the FIFA Executive Committee.

The sport shall advance only with the help of thinkers and advocates of the game who believe in inclusion and the power of women’s football.

The entire nation is rallying behind Team Jordan and this tournament. The U17 Women’s World Cup is also providing some happiness and thrill to an area whose neighbors are suffering from a humanitarian crises and devastation. FIFA has used women’s football to reach out to young Syrian refugees in Zaatari camp, and used the game as a tool to connect with and inspire displaced young women who are recovering from trauma.

The optics of watching hijab-wearing young women engage in the highest level of football at that age are astounding. It is the material from which dreams are made and flames are ignited.

Queen Rania of Jordan also threw her support behind the tournament. “To have young girls playing sports, and playing football specifically, can do so much to change attitudes and perceptions as to how society perceives girls and young women,” she said. “If a Jordanian woman wants to play football, I say ‘go for it’. Because you are a role model for society, for changing traditional roles and challenging the negative perception regarding women. And football is the healthiest and the most inspiring way to do all this.”

Cameroon is the other country to never have previously participated in a U17 WWC. It’s a good sign that African women’s football is developing a stronger presence beyond the senior level, something necessary for longterm program growth. Continuous development of girls and young women will certainly boost interest. Allowing for uniform accommodation can only help–for teams all over the world.  

Allowing hijab has not just infinitely expanded the number of player possibilities from Muslim-majority countries. It also elevates the game by showing that football is not only a ‘white girls’ sport.’ It is the world’s game and it is astoundingly beautiful.  

With the U17 FIFA Women’s World Cup finally underway, the world will get another chance to witness some of this beauty.

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  • Happy

    Congratulations, yet AGAIN, to Jordan!