Forced to choose between your faith and your career is a hurdle no one wants to go through. But that was the situation of Muslim footballers before FIFA lifted the ban on hijabs in 2014. It all started in 2007 when Canadian footballer Asmahan Mansour attempted to wear a headscarf to play but she was not permitted by the referee.
Head covers were not allowed on the pitch by the football governing body FIFA, because of health and safety reasons.
Years on, the Canadian’s story is the base of a subject important and central to women participation in sports.
When FIFA Secretary-General Jerome Valcke at a meeting of the International Football Association Board (IFAB) announced Muslims have been permitted to wear the hijab, he called it a “worldwide authorisation” because many had advocated for it to happen.
It is that advocacy that has led to many footballers wearing their religion like a badge of honour on the pitch.
Ghanaian footballer Anatu Sadat, started playing footbal at a tender age and she always heard comments about her not covering her head on the pitch due to her religion. It was something she took personal and so when the opportunity came for her to wear the hijab, she jumped on it.
“I’m a Muslim so it’s custom for a lady to have the hijab on because it’s part of the beliefs of Islam. I’m proud and I’ve always wanted to do that so when the opportunity came I just grabbed it” she told 3Sports.
In her very first Ghana Women’s Premier League game for Northern Ladies FC, she went viral for her looks rather than her contribution to the game, something she found perplexing.
“At the beginning of the season, I didn’t wear it because it was not available and comments came in from around the world talking about how beautiful I am without mentioning how I performed during the game and I was not happy about that” she told 3sports.
Few weeks later, she was in the spotlight again but for a totally different reason. She had given Ghanaians the rare sight of a footballer wearing the hijab on the pitch and that was something she had always wanted to do although she had fear pulling her back.
“I was scared. There was this fear in me because I’ve not seen any footballer wear it in Ghana because I knew FIFA had banned the wearing of hijab some years back and amended the rule in 2014. Something was pulling me back but I had to do it” she asserted.
She is the first beneficiary of the Maxwell Woledzi project, which aims at providing apparels to Muslim footballers who are willing to honour their faith whilst playing football.
Sumani Basurideen is the coach of Northern Ladies FC and he talks on how it will change the life of many Muslim footballers.
“She being the first lady to wear the hijab on the pitch makes me very happy because she is a part of my team. This will go a long way to touch other clubs and give way to Muslim girls and parents who are denying their wards in partaking football” Coach Basurideen said.
For the Northern Ladies FC striker, she hopes her story will inspire other Muslim footballers. When writing the history of religion in the place of Ghana football, there is a name that can’t be forgotten. The name of a woman who chose both faith and football. That name is Anatu Sadat.
By Sakyibea Ofori|3news.com|Ghana