Zest for women’s soccer grows in Middle East despite conservative opposition
(WNS) Zest for Women, a women’s soccer team run by the American Muslim community to bring Muslim girls of all faiths together, has now begun their two season in the United Arab Emirates and continues to grow despite the conservative opposition.
The team was founded in 2010 by Ali Abdulla, head coach for the U.S. team. Abdulla says he wanted to create a team that would bring people from all backgrounds together and show them to be more tolerant. At the time of the establishment of the team, they had just a handful of players, but soon grew to nearly 100.
There was a short lived challenge from the Sheikh Zayed Muslim University, before the team was approved to play in the federation for the 2013-14 season by a panel of the UAE Football Federation, which led to the team’s full access to the stadium in Abu Dhabi and the opportunity to travel to Europe on the team’s dime.
As of today, the team has over 150 members, with many more interested in playing, especially for the U.S. team, which currently has many players from the UAE and Jordan.
“We want to create a space to empower and celebrate women,” Abdulla says,” which is why we have so many women from Middle Eastern and Muslim backgrounds on the U.S. team, including a few women who are from countries outside the Middle East. We try to give people, especially young women, a safe path to become involved in sports, to be represented.”
However, the team has been met with opposition from some conservative groups, many of whom take issue with their use of the word “Muslim,” which they feel makes people associated with them. However, many of those opposing them have become more accepting of their presence within the team.
“It’s hard for our family to accept that we have a soccer team, but they have accepted it,” says Abdulla. “We hope that this will help encourage more people from all backgrounds to support the U.S. team. The more people get behind, the more unity we will have at the end of the