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Bahrain’s rambunctious Ravens Football Club definitely has something to crow about as they recently made it onto Nike’s radar for promoting the grassroots game in the kingdom as well as inspiring women to lace up and play.
The 25-strong squad, made up of locals and expatriate players from Bahrain, Canada, the UK, Scotland, Palestine, Egypt, Brazil and the US, were delighted to be noticed and interviewed by the multinational American athletic corporation and hope this will help grow the game even further on the island.
Rama Salem, Raven FC’s team captain, said: “We received an email a couple of months back in the lead up to the Women’s World Cup event in which Nike expressed their keen interest to collaborate with us on a human-interest project called Grassroots Football.
“Their goal was to showcase our journey through photography on and off the pitch in an effort to inspire more women around the globe to lace up and get outside.
“They wanted documentation of our team on and off the field; playing together, training together, pre and post matches, etc. The main goal was to capture the positive experience that playing creates for our team.
“It was so surreal! I couldn’t believe it at first. We thought it was a spam email. We eventually got in touch with the team from Nike headquarters in Portland, Oregon and it turned out it was all real! I think this is a step in the right direction to helping women’s football here in Bahrain but there is still a long way to go. However, at least it helps to inspire and give us the recognition we always aspired to achieve.”
Nike sent the fierce footballing ladies disposable cameras to capture every moment of play and also conducted an extensive interview with Salem, 32, as well as a few other members of the team.
“Nike ads are always empowering women and raising awareness for the next generation,” added Salem, a graphic designer from Saar. “There is more support for the plight of women’s football more than ever before so it’s great to somewhat be a part of that.”
Football was seen as a male dominated sport in the kingdom for several years with women that had a passion for the game left to find other ways to partake; from playing on tennis courts or in compounds.
“I first started playing football in compound streets or tennis courts, literally anywhere I could find with makeshift goal posts,” said Salem. “I played with my brother Tarek and male friends from school. I was always the only girl who used to play with the boys.
“Back then, besides the occasional school games, there were no football academies that offered football programmes for girls or any tournament or league participation. It was very difficult as a female to find a playing field solely dedicated to girls.”
It wasn’t until she returned from university in 2009 that Salem stumbled upon a brand new football academy, the Arsenal Soccer School Bahrain, which she was able to get back into the fast-paced sport.
“They created the first ladies league back in 2011 and since then the rise in interest grew from all corners of Bahrain,” she added. “It was overwhelming to see how many girls and women wanted to play football and small social groups were forming their own teams. Ravens FC was a product of this movement. It warms my heart that our team played a small role in paving the way for a bigger platform.
“Now, school leagues are better organised with more emphasis on female players. Countless pitches have opened their gates to mixed tournaments, training, and friendly matches. And most importantly, the Bahrain Football Association (BFA) has organised its first official women’s league in 2015 and has been growing ever since.
“It makes me sad that I didn’t have that opportunity or exposure to football at a younger age and so I had always made it my personal mission to do my part for the future of female football in Bahrain.
“With our team the Ravens, we’re giving girls a chance to play a sport that they were told they couldn’t play before, or simply wasn’t made available to them.”
The Ravens are a home-grown, non-profit ladies football club that has been running for nearly five years. During that time, they have recruited young girls and ladies from across the kingdom with the youngest currently being Yazzy Al Zurikat, 12, who Salem believes is the future star of the game.
Together, the ladies are working on promoting healthy living, inspiring women to keep up an active lifestyle, being responsible members of the community and act as role models for the empowerment of other young females through football.
Salem added: “Most importantly, we get together every week, strap on our boots and just have fun, because that’s what it’s all about - sharing one common goal - the love for football. We are proud to be a local team that welcomes all nationalities and ages.”
In 2018, the Ravens won the Angels Futsal Ramadan tournament and the Winners Academy Ladies Cup. This year, they were runners-up in the Rotary Club tournament and Winners Academy Ladies Cup. The BFA Women’s League, which they have set their sights on winning, will kick off around October with the pre-season and training staring around August.
“We would love to see growth in participation and acceptance, but also we hope that the recent World Cup inspires people to support their local women’s teams and volunteer at their local women’s clubs,” said Salem.
There is no denying that the FIFA Women’s World Cup caused a stir in the hearts and homes of football fanatics around the globe.
A crowd of nearly 60,000 people gathered at France’s Parc Olympique Lyonnais to watch as the US Women’s National soccer team defeated the Netherlands 2-0 and back in the US, millions more were watching.
According to a statement from Fox Sports, citing data from Nielsen Media Research, approximately 14.3 million American viewers tuned in to the final match on television, compared to 11.4 million for the 2018 Men’s World Cup Final.
Fox Sports’ statement reported that total viewership, including online streaming, peaked at roughly 20 million. According to CNN, an additional 1.6 million viewers watched the final match in Spanish on Telemundo.
However, while women’s football is growing in popularity with increasing participation, professionalization and media attention across the world, many are still fighting for a stable footing as well as equal playing field rights such as equal pay and contractual support.
There is a need for significant change to the way women footballers are supported to play for club and country alike.
The Ravens would love that this international acknowledgement act as an incentive to governing bodies to help fund and grow the women’s game. It’s time to shatter that glass ceiling.
“Also, outside of the benefits of football, we would love for women to take up the sport to help break down stereotypes and barriers that still exist in a huge number of places and it is something that the World Cup has the potential to do.
“We also hope that we can gather more interest to work towards forming a women’s league that represents fairness and creates opportunities. The development of female football here has not received much support and this is something we have always strived to see improved in the future by playing our part.
“If we can encourage established Bahraini clubs in Bahrain to take an interest in growing a women’s team, we would hopefully receive the support that is required to sustain the team for the long term and open the door to many other young girls looking to play football. With the rise in interest from female players, we will be able to see different age group leagues and tournaments in the future.”
Salem was one of the lucky ones when it came to taking up the sport as her father, Salah, encouraged her to play to her hearts content.
“My biggest influences definitely have to be my brother and father,” she said. “My father is a sports enthusiast who was always actively involved in whatever sport my brother and I were involved in. He has always encouraged me to play and enjoy sports and do what makes me happy.
“He never made me see a difference between genders in football - it was always just football. I am so thankful for his open-mindedness and helping me believe in myself in the sense that football was not just a sport for men, it had a BIG place for women too! He has taught me to be comfortable with who I am and has supported me endlessly. My passion for helping others and using my experiences to better the football female scene is completely inspired by him. He is the Ravens FC biggest fan and number 1 supporter.
“Also, I love being part of this team and appreciate everyone involved. We have the strongest team spirit with the most diverse group of girls and women; in addition, we honestly have the most supportive group of men behind the Ravens FC. There is so much behind the scenes work that they voluntarily help with to support our evolving ambition. From coaching, involving Dan Grimes, to strength and conditioning training to managing and cheering. They are with us every step of the way and do whatever they can to boost the women’s football scene. I am proud to call myself a Raven and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for us.”
Follow the ladies on Instagram @ravensfc_bh and check out Nike’s photo-style interview on https://www.nike.com/gb/football/t/grassroots-game-bahrain-ravens-fc/