Girls are taking on the boys on the pitch in Oman and even beating them at their own game. Words and photo: Tariq Al Haremi
The enthusiastic screams of the children could be heard on the approach to the British School of Muscat’s football pitch. A number of little red shirts were running around chasing a football, their faces set with determination and their mind only on one goal, or more accurately to score a goal.
The young footballers of the future were hard in training.
A closer look reveals that several of these mini Beckhams are girls, dribbling, tackling and fighting for the ball, going head-to-head with the boys in every aspect of the game and clearly loving every moment of it.
The girls and their male teammates are being put through their paces at the Arsenal Soccer School, which uses the pitch at BSM in Madinat al Sultan Qaboos. Established in Muscat in 2010, the soccer school is training the children “the Arsenal Way” – the same philosophy established by manager Arsene Wenger at the London Premier League club.
“Of course girls can play football, there’s no reason why not. We try to mix them together, the girls and the boys, so there’s no difference in our approach,” says Luis Miguel Gorgulho, head coach at Arsenal Soccer School.
Gorgulho should know a thing or two about spotting talent when he sees it. Having had 10 years coaching experience with Arsenal, he’s seen the greats rise through the ranks.
There’s no reason why a little star of the future to graduate from Muscat’s football academy shouldn’t be a girl.
“We have several talented girls, two of them really excellent, one of whom has a future I think,” he says.
While girl’s football is still in its infancy in Oman, interest is growing. The development of women’s football as a whole in the Middle East and central Asia only dates back around 10 years or so.
Oman no longer has a women’s national football team, and never played in any official match, but the younger girls enjoyed some success. In 1995, the U17 team competed in the U17 World Women’s Championships, where they finished fourth following a 2-0 defeat to Argentina.
At grass roots level, such as the Arsenal Soccer School, work is being done to attract girls to play the game and hone their skills on the pitch.
Girls like Rania, five, who could be part of the sport’s future in the country.
Brought up by a Pakistani father and an American mother, it was her mother that introduced her to football. “I want my daughter to play soccer, as I used to play soccer. I’m very proud of my daughter and what she has achieved. She was rewarded as one of the valuable players in the Under Five competition,” says her mother, beaming at her daughter in her mini Arsenal kit racing exuberantly around the pitch.
Although Rania likes playing with boys, she feels that they are a bit challenging and would prefer to play with girls. “When we travel to the United States we will allow her to join a full girls soccer team,” said Rania’s mother. “I’m proud of her, and I’m also going to send my younger daughter to be a rising star in soccer soon.”
Y also caught up with seven-year-old Mokshini Jasol, who is Indian. Mokshini’s mother explains that her daughter was shy, and had some trouble in school. Her social life was difficult and she didn’t make many friends. Since joining the soccer school, all that has changed.
“I love the way they teach them here,” says her mother. “They taught them how to socialise and speak to one another as this is a team sport. It is not boring as they try and make the lesson as fun as it can be.”
Learning football with Arsenal Soccer School has boosted the young footballer’s confidence.
Her mother agrees that physical exercise is just as important as theoretical learning. “Physical exercise helps improve mental and physical growth, which will help her in the classroom,” she asserts.
While it’s early days yet, all the signs are that women’s football in Oman could make a comeback on the pitch some day soon.