KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan has launched a women’s football league, a move that reflects the new transitional government’s aspirations for the country and allows female players to push for wider acceptance.
Under deposed president Omar al-Bashir, who was toppled in April after months of protests, Sudan was governed using a strict interpretation of sharia law and largely neglected women’s participation in sports.
But both male and female fans cheered in the stands as the Eltahadi and Eldifaa teams graced the country’s oldest sports stadium in the capital Khartoum in the league’s opening match on Monday.
“Not all of Sudanese society accepts (women’s football), but a small group does and they support us,” said Eltahadi player Nariman Lino.
“We will continue, and do what we can, until the rest of the Sudanese people accept it.”
The league includes 21 teams from across Sudan and the match was officiated by female referees. A past attempt at an unofficial women’s league featured only three Khartoum teams.
“At the start we struggled, firstly with acceptance of the idea (of women’s football), and then with the fact that we couldn’t even find a pitch to train on,” said Duria Taqialdin, Eltahadi’s manager.
“The union gave us a space, not even really a pitch, but we cleaned it up and made it into one. We named it the graveyard, because anyone who came to play us there would lose.”
Sudan’s new prime minister, Abdalla Hamdok, has said female participation across society is a priority for his government, citing the prominent role of women in the protests that brought down Bashir.
“There is now the political will to make women’s sports one of the pillars of the country’s development and we will work to provide the infrastructure for (it),” said Walaa Elboushi, the minister of youth and sport in the transitional cabinet.
Aisha Musa, one of two female members of Sudan’s 11-person joint military-civilian sovereign council, attended Monday’s match as a special guest.
“Our dream is to move forward, we want to participate in the (women’s) World Cup, and we want to raise Sudan’s name up high,” said Huda Ali, a goalkeeper for Eltahadi.
(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz and Eltayeb Siddig, writing by Nafisa Eltahir, editing by Aidan Lewis/Pritha Sarkar)