A female soccer coach stands near the stadium’s benches giving her instructions to the male players passing the ball to each other.
“It is not common in Middle Eastern society for a woman to join a soccer team and there are very few teams for women's soccer in Egypt. Men still refuse to play against women in the same stadium, let alone being trained by a woman,” soccer team captain Fayza Haidar, 36, told Al-Monitor. She recounted how difficult it was for her to be accepted as a coach of male soccer teams. “I endured criticisms, attacks and challenges, but I made it,” she said.
Recently, Haidar became the first Egyptian coach accredited by the English Football Association to be among the Egyptian ambassadors in England along with Egyptian professional soccer players Mohamed Salah, Mohamed el-Neny, Trezeguet and Ahmed el-Mohamady. Haidar has broken several social norms in Egypt that restrict women's participation in sports, specifically in soccer, especially after she was appointed as the first female coach in the Premier Skills program. She also made it as the first general coach for a men’s soccer team in Egypt, as she was signed up by the fourth division side Ideal Goldi, one of the country's professional men's clubs.
“This is a big win for women. I am very excited and proud, and I hope this will pave the way for more girls and women to challenge the status quo and believe in themselves,” Haidar said.
The Premier Skills program in Egypt is a program aimed to empower women and girls through soccer. It trains them in leadership and communication skills in order to thrive in society and address the challenges they face in daily life.
According to Haidar, since the launch of the Premier Skills program in Egypt in 2007, the number of youths and trainers has reached nearly 200,000, of whom 67% are females. She noted that the state-sponsored initiative dubbed “1,000 Girls: 1,000 Dreams” and implemented by the Ministry of Youth and Sports in partnership with the British Council, reached out to 1,200 girls across Upper Egypt and the Delta.
Recounting her success story, Haidar said, “I discovered my talent for soccer while accompanying my younger brother who played at the East Helwan youth center. I caught the eye of one of his coaches at that time, who asked my parents if I could join the soccer school. They refused at first, but then I convinced them by accepting to play during my brother's training. Back then, most trainers would compliment my talent, most notably one of the Zamalek club officials. In 1997, I joined the Helwan team and competed in the first women's club championship in Egypt when I was 14 years old. A year later, I joined the national team, and in 2003 I moved to the Aviation Club, and I was the team's top scorer.”
At the end of 2010, Haidar, who had just turned 25, was about to make a life-changing decision. “My brother had received an offer to play at Petrojet Football Club in 2007, and I decided to personally train him at the East Helwan youth center. One of the officials there asked me to handle the team’s technical tasks. I immediately agreed, and thus became the first coach of a men's soccer team in Egypt in 2008,” she added. “I kept playing with the Aviation Club and we made some huge wins. I won the Junior Championship eight times and the team reached the final round for the first time in the history of the club.”
Haidar started her coaching career by taking several training courses in the field of soccer coaching. She explained that in 2011, the British Council organized a training course for 100 coaches to learn the basics of coaching and how to serve the community through soccer. The course promoted the game in Helwan’s schools and attracted around 100 girls. Then a delegation from the English Football Association attended one of the course’s sessions and coordinated with the ministries of youth and sports, and education. They agreed to organize classes to teach the game to girls in schools.
The young coach was not spared bullying throughout her soccer career. “When I was coaching at the East Helwan club, the other clubs’ fans would throw bricks at me and shout, ‘Go back to the kitchen.’”
This pushed her to accept coaching the Special Olympics Egypt's female Unified Football team. “My players felt they were just like any other player and that they can achieve whatever they want despite the bullying they were exposed to. The team won third place in the Unified Football World Cup in Chicago in July 2018.”
In 2012, Haidar traveled to the United States to learn more coaching skills. In late 2013, she applied to become a certified trainer with the English Football Association. The association sent three foreign experts to follow up on the female candidates; she obtained a coaching license on Sept. 15, 2014. She also obtained an official coaching certificate from the English Premier League, in addition to her experience as a player in the Egyptian women's soccer team.
In 2017, Haidar received a professional offer from Barcelona and Atletico Madrid as a player, and she also received an unofficial offer to take part as a player in a training camp with the English club Liverpool.
Female soccer players first appeared in Egypt in 1989. At the time, the women's soccer team took part in the African League, which was one of the first tournaments that the Egyptian women's soccer team played in. Egypt was nominated among the eight best African countries to reach the World Cup.
Mohamed Kamal, head coach of Wadi Degla club’s women's soccer team, believes that women's teams do not obtain equal financial rights like the men's teams. He said in a press statement that this is not the fault of the clubs but rather due to the game's marketing system, as there are no sponsors for women teams.
Kamal added that the media fails to promote these players the same way it does with male players, as the audience prefers men's soccer games. Kamal called on the Egyptian media to highlight the positive side of female soccer players by showing the talents of the players and the support they receive from their families.