Player Profile | Zahra Mahmoodi, Afghanistan

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Meet Zahra Mahmoodi from Afghanistan. Here she gives a very honest account of her life growing up and how she never ended her dream to play football and what she has done to ensure it doesn’t remain a dream for other girls.

To support Zahra and the other Equal Playing Field players, please visit visit http://equalplayingfield.com/donate/

 

I was born 26 years ago in Iran as an Afghan refugee in a neighborhood where many Afghan refugee families were living who were forced to leave Afghanistan due to war and armed conflicts. I started working from the age of 7 because even though my father was working in 2 or 3 jobs at the same time he was receiving very low wages for hard labour in poor working environments. First I and my siblings were packaging electric tapes at home after school and I remember my hands were always full of glue - which, aside from my physical appearance that marked me out as different to the other kids, gave another reason to be discriminated against by some of my Iranian classmates and teachers. But I was happy and thankful that I was able to go to school while many other refugee kids could not.

I fell in love with soccer when I was 9 years old and became a huge fan of Manchester United. On my way to school I would see boys playing soccer everywhere, but I could not think of anywhere I could play. When our school built a handball field I told some of my classmate “let’s play soccer in it, I know the rules” and we started playing every morning before school. But soon after, the school administration warned us that they will kick us out if we play soccer again because apparently it was not appropriate for the girls to play. Soccer was just for boys.

One of our teachers advised us to sign for a private club in a gym where we might be able to play. But Afghan refugees were not welcomed in the club and even if the door hadn’t been closed in my face I would not have been able to afford it.

It broke my heart and I tried to say goodbye to the dream of playing but could not. The economic situation of our family did not become any better and suddenly my father decided that we should sew soccer balls at home to sell in the market. During the day we sewed soccer balls and at night my sister and I would stay in our little workshop to pump and clean the balls.

That was the first time I could play with a ball away from the critical eyes of society. In 2004, when I was 14, my school decided to refuse us entry – even thought we had the right documentation. Despite the fact that there were so many health, security and education challenges to overcome right after the fall of Taliban, we decided we should retun to Afghanistan.

Back in Kabul, I made friends very quickly and started teaching them how to play soccer. We had no soccer field, so we made goals with rocks and played on the school’s dusty yard. Many of my friends have never run or laughed out loud before as it was considered inappropriate for the girls. The girls loved this game and wanted to play it more often.

After about a year we learned that the Afghanistan Football Federation was considering having a girls’ soccer tournament – meaning there were a few other girls interested in playing. After playing in that tournament, I was chosen for the Afghanistan’s first Girls’ National Team.

It was not easy to play soccer in a male dominated society where girls have been denied their very basic rights for decades and where issues such as child marriage and domestic violence are an everyday challenge.

Our team players faced many social and economic challenges beside the security issues. Most of us had to walk hours to reach the practice field which was within the International Security Assistance Force’s headquarter in Kabul. Sometimes our coach or I had to talk to girls’ families to convince them to let them come and play by promising they would be safe and that we respected religious and traditional values.

Sometimes I would go to different schools to convince their principles to let the girls play soccer in their schools and they would object most of the times. My own family was not happy about me playing soccer, mostly for economic and security reasons, especially because being part of a minority group, a Hazara, made me even more vulnerable in society. But I always felt so much responsibility towards other kids that never had a chance to experience this wonderful game.

I had a dream to become a soccer player.  I accomplished my dream even though it seemed impossible at first.  Now, I have a dream of an equal world where it does not matter if you are a girl or a boy and you can dream of being whatever you want!

I just wanted more and more kids find their way to the wonderful world of soccer when you can share your joy with your teammates and forget all your problems in home and school. I became the Captain of our national team and played in many national and international games. I was also the first female in Afghanistan to become a FIFA licensed coach and founded under 14 girls’ national team. In my efforts to bring more attention to the female sport players I met with John Kerry secretary of states and later I won the Muhammad Ali humanitarian award.

I am climbing this mountain for the girls who climb a mountain of challenges in their everyday life just for very basic rights, such as playing games and participating in sports and social activities. I hope that through doing so, we can bring more attention to the girls and women who need global support and attention. I want to tell them that they are not alone and I appreciate their fight for their rights. Each time they climb a mountain, they are in fact sweeping away a stone from the path that other girls will follow.

To support Zahra and the other Equal Playing Field players, please visit visit http://equalplayingfield.com/donate/

To find out more about the challenge, please go to www.equalplayingfield.com

Coach Profile | Marisa Gonzalez, Mexico

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Meet Marisa Gonzalez, one of our Mexican coaches who has been so successful with her team back home that she can no longer climb the mountain with us – so that she can dedicate her time to her team’s success! She will be running sports clinics in Mexico later this year under the Equal Playing Field banner. Here she tells us what playing and working in football has done for her and why she is supporting Equal Playing Field.

 

I grew up in Puebla Mexico, surrounded by a big family. My dad always played soccer and coached, so I was introduced to football very early. I was lucky that way. I started playing at around 7-8, then played competitive starting age 12.  Later, I played college soccer in the US. Division 2. I got injured my junior year so my last two years I was a student coach so I could stay on the team.

 

I have been involved in football as a player, then as a coach, as a manager, as a leader. It has become one of the most important parts of my life. Being a woman in sport pushes you to work harder and prove yourself. 80% of the people I work with are men. It’s tough, especially if you are a manager or have people working for you. I am one of the few women coaches in competitive teams, so I’m always needing to prove that my knowledge of soccer is as valid as theirs.

 

People here still believe football makes you less of a woman or will change your sexual orientation. I believe that the biggest problem is that sport are not seen as “ladylike”. Girls playing sports are then not taken seriously, and girls are never treated as genuine athletes.

 

I hope that we see more girls doing sport at a younger age - and parents supporting girls who decide to take part in any sport they choose.

 

Because of sport I am willing to overcome any challenges, work in teams, not be afraid of being a leader, work well under pressure. Football has given me my best friends. It has given me a purpose and has allowed me to connect with many girls and be a positive influence in their lives. It has made my family come closer because we are all involved in the club. And I believe it has made me a strong, independent woman that is not afraid to speak up and with a better self-image and self-esteem than many of my friends.

 

I play football not only because I love the game but because when I play, I feel complete. Football allows me to be myself.

 

It’s important to show that the everyday struggles women face happen all over the world, not just in a single country. There is such power in women that work together. I am climbing this mountain for me, to show myself how strong I can be and to show the girls I coach I am willing to climb a mountain if it means it will help them to have equality in their future.

 

For more information please visit www.equalplayingfield.com

Former England Player joins international all-woman football world record attempt

Rachel Unitt launches fundraising drive to get her to top of Mt Kilimanjaro to play 90-minute match, calling for an equal playing field for all women and girls in sport.

Former Lionness Rachel Unitt, who played for Notts County, Everton and Wolves during her career, has joined an international 30 women squad to try to break the world record for the highest altitude football match ever played. The women will play a full 90-minute game, officiated by female FIFA accredited referees just below the Summit of Mt Kilimanjaro, almost 2 kilometres higher than the highest stadium in the world. A documentary team and TV crew will join the women as they climb the mountain. The international squad, is composed of professionals, national team players and competitive amateurs from more than 20 countries, as diverse as Afghanistan, Argentina, France, Jordan, Sweden, South Africa, and Tanzania but still seek final funds to make sure it can take place in one month’s time.

Should the squad raise the funds required, the world record game scheduled for June 24 during UK Women in Sport Week, will draw attention to the daily discrimination faced by women seeking to play, compete, coach or work in football and raise the profile of inspirational female sporting role models in the media.

Unitt said “Every day women face many small mountains whether at grassroots or elite level. Unfortunately, many drop out too early because the support, the investment and the visibility is lacking. We want to climb this one huge mountain, to inspire women and girls over the world. We want them to know that no matter the barriers or challenges they may face they should never give up. Anything is possible.”

Maggie Murphy, co-organiser of the record breaking feat, also from the UK said “We are delighted to have Rachel join our squad. All our players, whether from the US, Tanzania or Afghanistan have faced many challenges throughout their lives – just to play the game they love. Some challenges may be more extreme than others, but the playing field is far from equal for all women. Playing football should not have to be a dream and no girl should miss out because of her gender.”

In taking on this world record attempt, Unitt joins two time Olympian and World Cup Winner Lori Lindsey (USA) former Mexico women’s team captain Monica Gonzalez, Egyptian player of the year 2011 Esraa Awad, South African record goal scorer Portia Modise, Sandrine Dusang and Julie Soyer (France), Zahra Mahmoodi and Hajar Abufazl (Afghanistan), former Fulham player Deena Rahman (Bahrain), and other pro or competitive amateurs and FIFA accredited referees from Argentina, Canada, Indonesia, Italy, Jordan, Nepal, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, the United Arab Emirates and the UK. Other UK based players include organiser Maggie Murphy (Camden Town FC), Katie Donegan (Basingstoke Town LFC) and Nikki Riley and Lisa Clutterbuck (South London WFC).

Equal Playing Field is partnering with Football for Peace in the lead up to the record breaking attempt as well as through a series of global clinics that will take place once the attempt has been completed.

To watch the film trailer and support the world record attempt, please visit https://startsomegood.com/projects/equalplayingfield 

To support Rachel Unitt’s participation: https://www.gofundme.com/rachels-record-breaking-challenge?rcid=e158f77b3d7f4fc4985bd558840a5fc7 

 

For interviews

Maggie Murphy, Communications Lead  +44 751 7707 565 | mmurphyiw@gmail.com

Player Profile | Haneen Al-Khateeb, Jordan

Player Profile | Haneen Al-Khateeb, Jordan

Meet Haneen Al-Khateeb from Jordan. She’s represented her country at the U17 level at the World Championships and tells us here what it is like to be a young female athlete trying to compete at the highest level and why she is joining the Equal Playing Field squad.

Haneen is kindly being supported by Sportrak but is still looking for additional supporters. Want to help her and her teammates get up Mt Kilimanjaro and inspire the next generation? Visit https://startsomegood.com/equalplayingfield

 All my experiences have taught me that football is not just a game. Football is life, hope, and love.

I grew up in a small town playing football with the neighborhood boys in the streets from the age of 9. I joined a local club and later, was selected for the U-17 national team. In 2010 I played in the world championships in Sri Lanka. I then co-organized the 2016 U-17 Women’s World Cup in Jordan and am involved in football clinics for refugees. I believe there will be many more football opportunities in my life and I’m very excited for what will be ahead.

Football hasn’t always been so popular in Jordan. It’s grown a lot though it’s not yet equal to men’s football. Fortunately, Prince Ali has been a huge supporter of gender equality in football, not just in Jordan but all around the world. He was successful in helping to lift FIFA’s ban on the hijab in women’s football and that has been so helpful to me and other hijabi athletes.

I have been told to stop playing in the streets. I have been told to stop playing the game I love. I have been told that football wasn’t for women. I have been told that women are not strong enough to compete. I have been judged by what I wore.

Football was the first opportunity for me to fight for what I wanted and encouraged me to chase my dreams. Football has given me strength, passion and opportunities in life. 

Now I am a 22 year old hijabi woman athlete. I run, I play football, I cycle. I still constantly worry about what people will say or what people will think. I only ask to be respected in whatever sport I decide to take up, regardless of my gender.

My family are my number one supporters. They’ve always known that I was not going to submit to society’s rules if they were unfair. No matter what, I know they’ll always be there to encourage me to follow my dreams and I would not be where I am today without them. 

As a hijabi athlete, I know the obstacles and struggles that women face. As a journalism and media student, I see the power of media and how it can change people’s lives. We need to show the world the abilities and achievements of every successful woman. Thousands of talented and passionate women athletes have many stories to tell and are waiting to tell them.

Climbing this mountain shows I am able - and crazy enough - to go after what I want with passion, determination and love. It means I have accepted the challenge to prove to every single woman that anything is possible regardless of gender or what society says is acceptable. I’m doing it for myself. I’m doing it for my love of the game. I’m doing it for each person who always believed in me.  I’m doing it to inspire and be inspired.

If you would like to support Haneen and her team mates break a world record and inspire a new generation please donate here https://startsomegood.com/equalplayingfield

To find out more about the challenge, please go to www.equalplayingfield.com

Player Profile | Monica Gonzalez, Mexico

Player Profile | Monica Gonzalez, Mexico

Monica Gonzalez has not only captained Mexican national women’s team and founded Gonzo Soccer Peace Foundation, but she’s worked the sideline as a reporter for ESPN, is a commentator and analyst for FOX Deportes and sits on the Advisory Board for FIFPro, the World Players Union. As if this wasn’t enough, she’s joining us in a climb of a lifetime, up MtKilimanjaro in June to break a soccer world record.

If you want to support us to break a soccer world record, please visit: www.startsomegood/equalplayingfield    

Football has been the spine of my life. As I’ve grown its place and meaning has evolved as well. It’s a game, a business, an expression of culture, a mechanism to develop character and to raise strong women and productive future employees.

I think I may be from the last great generation of street rats. It’s sad our world has become more dangerous over time and kids now don’t get to spend as much quality time together.   My dad played soccer for the US Men’s national team in the 1972 Munich Olympics so he had a ball at my feet since before I can remember and even lied about my age to get me in the boys’ league when I was 4.

 

When I was 13, I learned that playing soccer could get me a college scholarship and from then on, it was my goal and soccer became my job. But now there is a mad race for college scholarships - women’s soccer in the United States is becoming much more exclusive and girls in underserved communities are missing out on the chance to play.

 

In 2012, the NCAA reported that only 4% of its female student-athletes were Latina, and this is in a country that has almost 20% Latino population! The statistics for early pregnancy, and thus sustained poverty cycles, in US inner cities are worse than the 15 communities where I have soccer academies in Mexico and Colombia, so I know that there are still thousands of girls in the US that need someone to speak up for them.

 

I learned through having set up the Gonzo Academy that when a girl plays sports it doesn’t just change their life, it changes her family, her friends and the entire community. Now I see that empowering women is what will bring peace and prosperity to all of us. I got lucky, and ended up playing professional soccer, working as a sports broadcaster, and travelling the world - all because of soccer. I’m climbing Mt Kilimanjaro with Equal Playing Field for those girls out there who want go out and play but aren’t allowed or don’t have the chance.

 

There seems to be a sense that we need to “protect” girls, which is maybe partly because of levels of violence against women - but there is also implies an inherent “weakness” in women.

 

It was hard to be the captain of the Mexico national team, center back, #4—just like Rafa Marquez—and be making $300 a month while I knew he was making millions. Later on it was hard for me to be ESPN sideline reporter, as a FIFA World All Star, when all I was allowed to do was to be the “jock sniff” - chasing the boys around the field to get interviews. ESPN didn’t let me make comments or have my own opinions. I was only allowed to report on things I saw or heard on the field.

 

But sometimes I wonder, is that discrimination, or is it just businesses at different stages of their evolution?

 

As I speak to more women around the world I hear they suffered the same way we did yet we kept telling ourselves we were lucky to be on a national team and kept our mouths shut. FIFPro women’s director, former Swedish goal-keeper Caroline Jonsson, calls it “gratitude guilt”. Many amazing players my age, including myself, still have financial problems today because we chose to follow our hearts and listened to our coaches when they told us not to complain or else our program would get cut. Today, female footballers across the globe are discovering that it is not only okay to speak up, it is essential for us to continue to evolutionize our sport, discover our own competitive advantage, and prove our value to society.

 

Our world is in dire need of female role models and football is the perfect industry to get them from. The most important work ever is taking place now -  as we see national teams like Ireland and Chile unionizing and demanding basic human rights be met.

 

My vision for the future is the same as my vision for Gonzo Soccer---a world with more female footballers will be a more peaceful and prosperous world. Football is global - so it could be what unites our world and builds bridges if we want it to.

To find out more about the challenge, please go to www.equalplayingfield.com

Player Profile | Lori Lindsey, USA

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Retired US midfielder Lori Lindsey is Equal Playing Field’s newest recruit! With 31 caps for the US, playing in the 2011 FIFA World Cup and part of the gold medal winning squad in the London 2012 Olympics she has plenty of experience to draw on as she now aims to break a footballing world record. Here she tells us why she’s joined the Equal Playing Field squad.

Do you want to support Lori break a world record so she can help younger players realise their dreams? Sponsor her here: https://www.gofundme.com/kn5a2-equal-playing-field

Football has brought me so much joy to my life.

I grew up in Indiana and played every sport possible, but soccer was my first love and favorite. My older brother Chris played so I would play on his all-boys teams since there weren’t as many opportunities for girls at that time. I remember watching the first ever Women’s World Cup when I was 11 and thinking that one day, I want to be just like those women. Some twenty years later I can now reflect back on what I have achieved. I am one of only four players to play in all three of our women’s professional leagues here in the US, and represented the US Women’s National Team, notably in the 2011 World Cup and then at the London 2012 Olympic Games. I am now in a position to inspire young players to reach their dreams.

The first time I pulled on the US national jersey, it felt amazing. It felt like all my hard work over so many years was paying off. And it wasn't just about the hard work I had put in....the jersey represented all the time, love, and money that my parents, my family, countless coaches and numerous friends had put in to get me to that point.

My most proud moment is the 2011 Women's World Cup. As any player knows, the World Cup is the pinnacle of our sport and to play and participate in what was arguably the most successful women's sporting event in the world at that time was a dream come true for me.

I have been afforded some amazing opportunities through football but even as I climbed up the ladder to professional football – one thing was clear; the playing field for women in sport is not equal. We are making strides in the U.S. especially with the most recent collective bargaining agreement with our Women’s National Team – but I believe the next step is for us is to help other countries to close the inequality gap. The 2015 World Cup highlighted some of these drastic inequalities in some countries between their men’s and women’s teams and we need to help them. I hope to play a vital role in this.

Football taught me many things; I’ve learned dedication, heartbreak, how to be a team player, the power of persistence, hard work, that change is constant. Most importantly I have learned to believe in myself. Climbing up this mountain allows me to continue to play an important role in raising awareness and end this inequality.

To support the Equal Playing Field squad break a world record and inspire new generations please visit: www.startsomegood/equalplayingfield     

To find out more about the challenge, please go to www.equalplayingfield.com

BeIN Sports announced as Official Media Partner for female football world record attempt

PRESS RELEASE

BeIN Sports “delighted and excited” to hike Mt Kilimanjaro to cover all-women football feat for worldwide audiences

London/Amman/Melbourne | May 02 2017

Equal Playing Field is delighted to welcome global sports TV network, BeIN Sports as official media partner for an all-female football Guinness World Record attempt. In June two football teams comprised of female players from more than 20 countries will play a full 90-minute FIFA regulation game just below the Summit of Mt Kilimanjaro. The women will play it out at an altitude 2 kilometres higher than the world’s highest football stadium.

The world record attempt seeks to draw attention to the daily discrimination faced by women seeking to play, compete, coach or work in football and raise the profile of inspirational female sporting role models in the media. BeIN Sport are committed to Equal Playing Field’s values of increasing opportunity, equality and respect for women in sport and will broadcast the challenge to their viewership of 250 million.

BeIN Sports Senior Producer, Ben Jacobs, who will hike Mt Kilimanjaro to cover the event said “We are delighted and excited to support Equal Playing Field's world-record attempt, which will provide an innovative and important platform to promote not just equal pay in sport but women's rights more generally. Those participating are extremely inspiring individuals and hopefully the coverage we can provide can help showcase their stories to our global audience. It's a particularly relevant time to do so ahead of the 2017 Uefa Women's Euros which beIN Sports will be covering.”

Erin Blankenship, Equal Playing Field co-founder said “We are delighted to welcome BeIN Sports into our record-breaking squad. They have the vision, commitment and passion we seek to ensure our story can inspire a new generation of women and girls to enjoy all the benefits that being active in a range of sporting roles provides - whether playing, refereeing, coaching or commentating.”

The players joining the challenge include former nationals Monica Gonzalez (Mexico), Sasha Andrews (Canada), Zahra Mahmoodi and Hajar Abufazl (Afghanistan), Esraa Awad (Egypt), Maja Astrom (Sweden), Pamela Conti (Italy), Sandrine Dusang and Julie Soyer (France), Portia Modise (South Africa) and other pro players, competitive amateurs and FIFA accredited referees from Argentina, Indonesia, Jordan, Nepal, Singapore, Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates, the UK, and the US.

Equal Playing Field is still in talks with potential sponsors and partnering organizations. Should you wish to partner with us, please see www.equalplayingfield.com

For interviews

Erin Blankenship, Co-Founder | Amman UTC+3 | +962 7 9836 5212 | erinebsa@gmail.com

Maggie Murphy, Head of Communications |London UTC+1 |+44 751 7707 565 | mmurphyiw@gmail.com

IFA Sport Joins Women’s World Record-Breaking Team

PRESS RELEASE

IFA Sport has joined the Equal Playing Field Initiative as UAE Partner

Dubai | April 27 2017

In June 2017 two all-women football teams will battle out for 90 minutes on a football pitch built just below the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. If they succeed, they will break the Guinness World Record for the highest altitude football game ever played. The players, from more than nineteen countries, include former Canadian national Sasha Andrews, former German World Cup star Petra Landers, Afghan national Hajar Abufazl, South African Portia Modise, former FIFA World Cup referee Jacqui Hurford (née Melksham) and pro players or competitive amateurs from Argentina, France, Egypt, Jordan, Mexico, the UK, US and the United Arab Emirates. There are currently five players joining the team from the UAE, two of which are members of the IFA league. 

As a strong supporter of women’s sport, IFA looks forward to contributing to the Equal Playing Field Efforts. Jessica Prelle, Head of girls & womens football at IFA, says “We’re very excited to partner up with EPF to further encourage and support girls and womens sport in the region and worldwide. At IFA we have a strong focus and passion to develop female football and offer programs for all ages where girls and women can join, no matter what age, nationality or level. By offering a fun but safe environment as well as a number of great pathways, girls can develop and improve in their own time.

Initiatives like EPF are a welcome development for sportswomen in the region - we are still fighting stereotyping in football, especially in the Middle East and it is time to break down these barriers.”

 

IFA will host the EPF Ladies Cup on May 19 which will include players from around the region and provide visibility to the initiative. It will also host a clinic after the climb in which the UAE EPF team can work with girls to improve not only their soccer skill but also provide them with mentorship and positive role models.

Through partnership with IFA, EPF looks forward to further expanding its network in the UAE and consequently, its positive impact.  It is also continuing to pursue other partnerships and sponsorships in the country and region, specifically with entities dedicated to women in sport and interested in joining the world record-breaking team. 

For more information about this initiative and how you can get involved, please see www.equalplayingfield.com or email equalplayingfield2017@gmail.com 

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For interviews

Maggie Murphy, Head of Communications |London UTC+1 |+44 751 7707 565 | mmurphyiw@gmail.com

Hoorag to provide Equal Playing Field athletes with gear ahead of record climb

PRESS RELEASE

Players will stay protected from the sun and dirt whilst looking good!

London/Amman/Melbourne | April 27 2017

Equal Playing Field is grateful to receive latest in-kind support from US company Hoorag – helping us to climb Mt Kilimanjaro in June, keeping hair out of eyes, sun off our faces and moisture at bay. Find out more about Hoorag here.

Veronica of Hoo-rag said, "We are especially pleased to support such a fantastic journey knowing that it will help continue forging the path for equality and balance between genders in a way that stretches across several cultures.  We are excited to see what becomes of their quest as they head out for adventure!"

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For interviews

Maggie Murphy, Head of Communications |London UTC+1 |+44 751 7707 565 | mmurphyiw@gmail.com

Aspire Underwriting Agency proud to kit out Equal Playing Field record-breakers

PRESS RELEASE

London/Amman/Melbourne | April 23 2017

Equal Playing Field welcomes the financial support provided by Aspire Insurance to kit out the players as they attempt a world record breaking soccer match at the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro in June. Players from almost 20 nationalities including ten national team players will step out on a temporary pitch at more than 18,000 ft in kit provided by Aspire.

Mark Jeffrey, CEO of Aspire Underwriting Agency said Aspire are proud to be associated with initiatives that reach out in a pro-active manner to create awareness of inequalities, prejudices and injustices that still exist in society”

 

For more information on the record-breaking attempt, see www.equalplayingfield.com.

There remain a number of sponsorship opportunities. For more details please contact equalplayingfield2017@gmail.com 

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For interviews

Erin Blankenship, Co-Founder | Amman UTC+3 | +962 7 9836 5212 | erinebsa@gmail.com

Maggie Murphy, Head of Communications |London UTC+1 |+44 751 7707 565 | mmurphyiw@gmail.com

Equal Playing Field players to rock WackySox up Mt Kilimanjaro

Socks will make teams stand out at top of Mt Kilimanjaro during world record attempt in June.

London/Amman/Melbourne | April 25 2017

Equal Playing Field is grateful to receive in-kind support from UK company WackySox – protecting our feet with designs as crazy as our world record breaking challenge! Find out more about WackySox here.

Keith Grainger Managing Director of WackySox said “As a business we promote the involvement in and enjoyment of sport at whatever level irrespective of your ability, age, gender, ethnicity, religious beliefs or sexuality”. We are proud to say that all our hats and socks are made here in Great Britain and we are also proud to support The Equal Playing field project which is making a huge statement on a global platform. We wish them every success in promoting equal opportunities in sport for all everywhere around the world”.  

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For interviews

Maggie Murphy, Head of Communications |London UTC+1 |+44 751 7707 565 | mmurphyiw@gmail.com

Player Profile | Hajar Abulfazl, Afghanistan

Meet Hajar Abulfazl, Afghan national team player and coach of the Under-19s. She describes how important her family has been to realizing her dreams and what she hopes she can achieve for other women and girls through her efforts, including taking part in this world record-breaking challenge.

Want to help Hajar get up Mt Kilimanjaro and inspire the next generation? Visit www.startsomegood/equalplayingfield  

I was born in Kabul, Afghanistan. My family had to leave the country because of war, When the war finished, we returned to Kabul where I started playing football at school, aged 14. After playing in several tournaments, I was selected for the national team in 2008. I am a former captain of the team, head of the women’s and finance committees for the Afghanistan Football Federation, and currently coach the Under-19s team. I am also a proud Athlete Ambassador for Shirzanan, a Muslim Women Sports Advocacy group.

I’m dedicated to female empowerment through sports and try to speak with girls and to the media as often as possible to raise awareness for the human right and benefits of participation. As a recent medical school graduate, I emphasize the health and social implications.

I co-founded Tawana Youth Development Organization (TYDO), which organizes school visits and sports festivals to promote sports among girls in the country. I love coaching Tawana where I have 18 players practicing three times a week. In rural areas, it’s much more difficult for girls to play -  often because of instability in the country. Parents want to keep the girls home and protected.

But, girls are also kept off the playing field because their parents and brothers maintain conservative views that sports are for boys, girls are weak, and girls should stay home. Every day, I hear a new story about girls giving up their dreams to play – or sometimes even go to school – because they don’t have support.

My family was different. I am part of a big family, the third of eight sisters and four brothers. I have been lucky to have siblings and parents who support, encourage and protect me - and that includes my football activities. Despite cultural taboos, my father and mother let me play and talk to media as a role model to other girls and to their parents. We show them that sports are positive for the individual, family, and society by making girls stronger and productive.

I hope for a future where barriers and discrimination don’t kill the dreams of women and girls worldwide. There’s a long way to go to influence gender norms and gain the support of men and boys who recognize their sisters, daughters and wives all deserve equal opportunities.

Equality to me means women and men with equal freedom to think, to make decisions, to choose the path of our own lives, and to seek our own achievements. Equality means women being allowed to be the champion and superstar of their own lives.

Football enriched my life. It taught me discipline and commitment, success and failure. Because of football, I have traveled around the world and participated in multi-national and cross-cultural exchanges like the Equal Playing Field Initiative. I have been able to learn and contribute to peace and understanding through sports.
 

I am so excited and honored to unite and unify with the great, diverse Equal Playing Field international team climbing Mt Kilimanjaro.

If you would like to support Hajar break a world record and inspire a new generation please donate here www.startsomegood/equalplayingfield   

To find out more about the challenge, please go to www.equalplayingfield.com

Player Profile | Nikki Riley, UK

Meet Nikki Riley from the UK – here she tells us what frustrates her about the way women athletes are portrayed in the media, how she’s been lucky to have had life choices that she knows are denied to others, and why she’s climbing Mt Kilimanjaro with Equal Playing Field.

Want to help Nikki break a world record? She’s also fundraising for our Egyptian star Esraa Awad. Sponsor them here: https://www.gofundme.com/equal-playing-field-kilimanjaro

I grew up in Nottingham, England. I played sports at school, but I wasn’t allowed to play football. The girls were only allowed to play netball and hockey, boys were allowed to play football and rugby. I hated all the sports I was “supposed” to play but I started playing football for a local girls’ team that my dad found when I was 10.

I never attended a pro-women’s football game until I was in my 20s as it wasn’t really something advertised. Come to think of it, I never watched any women’s sports -  all the live sports I was taken to see were men’s! It annoys me that there’s a bit of a stigma around women’s sport, that its seen as “not as good” or “the cheap option”. The coverage of women’s football in the UK has got better – but is still terrible.  When England played recently, I had to scroll through so many sports stories to find anything on the game! Ironic considering our women’s team are much more successful than our men’s at the moment!

And when women are profiled – they are often described in a derogatory way as though it’s a surprise that they are good at sport. Being first described as a “mother” or “wife of” or “ex model” rather than focussing on the fact that she is an athlete. They are often judged on their looks rather than their sporting performance. For men’s coverage, their sporting achievement comes first.

People say that the men’s game has a better atmosphere - this will only change when people are more open to watching women’s sport – but they can’t open up to the idea until there is better profile of women’s sport in the media.

In taking on this world record challenge, I hope to pave the way for my future children. My ten-year old niece is excited that I am climbing a mountain. She is a very girly girl and has joined the football and basketball teams at school and I don’t for one second think it has crossed her mind that she is playing a “boys” sport. This is how it should be, and I hope that won’t suddenly change. I have hope for the next generation. 

I believe women should have more choice in the way they live their life. I have been lucky enough to live in a society where I have been allowed to make my own choices. I recently married my wife, something that is frowned upon and illegal in many countries around the world. I am climbing this mountain for all the women who aren’t allowed freedom to be who they want to be in all aspects of their life.

If you would like to support Nikki to break a world record and inspire a new generation please donate here: https://www.gofundme.com/equal-playing-field-kilimanjaro

Player Profile | Petra Landers, Germany

Four time German champion and winner of the 1989 European Cup with the German National Team, Petra Landers brings a wealth of experience to our squad. She’s already broken one record by being in the first ever German women’s national football team in 1982 and here she tells us why she wants another record by climbing Mt Kilimanjaro with the Equal Playing Field squad.

If you want to support Petra break a world record and help her to continue to inspire girls around the world, please visit https://www.gofundme.com/petralanders

petra

I was born in 1962, and grew up with my two sisters on a worker´s estate in Bochum, a city in western Germany. I discovered soccer when I was six years old. I played soccer on the streets and fields with the boys in the neighbourhood. My first team was all boys, I played there for two years. Looking back I realise that everything I did was a bit unusual for girls or women. I learnt crafts in the school with the boys instead of sewing with the girls, I played soccer with the boys instead doing gymnastic with the girls. Later on I did vocational training as motor mechanic.

But even in Germany, it wasn’t socially acceptable for us to play for a very long time. The German Football Association banned girls and women’s soccer until 1970. Even my own boss tried to stop me from representing my country in the European Championships in 1989. I tried to take holiday to play — but he blocked my request. It was only when I threatened to quit my job that he let me go. And soon after we were crowned European Champions!

This was the first time the German national women’s team won the European Cup. And do you know what we were awarded by the German Football Association? A coffee set.

Now whenever I meet girls or women who want to play soccer, I do what I can to support and motivate them. I used to focus on supporting girls in Germany to play soccer, but these days I support girls and women in Zambia. Through soccer their self-esteem grows, and that helps to improve their role in society.

In my opinion, equality brings self-esteem, freedom and respect. That’s why I try to support women and girls to fight for equality and I do that through sport.

When I played professionally there were days when the pressure was almost too much and it threatened to roll into my personal life too. But that’s when I thought — just one more round, I can do this. Fight for you, fight for the team, for family. Be strong and go forward. I am a fighter, in sport and in life.

To sponsor Petra, and help get her up the mountain — please go to https://www.gofundme.com/petralanders

 

Player Profile | Jacqui Hannon, USA

We are proud to welcome Jacqui Hannon from Connecticut, USA to the squad – she is an elementary grade teacher hoping to inspire her children to pursue their passions and stand up for causes they believe in. A former top flight athlete she tells us here why she is joining the Mt Kilimanjaor climb

If you would like to help Jacqui be an inspiration to her students, please support her here: https://www.gofundme.com/equalplayingfield Jacqui is also raising funds to cover players in the Equal Playing Field squad who are unable to raise funds to travel.

I grew up in Woodbury, a small town in Connecticut. Before I could even walk, my sister Liz, who is 11 years older than me, held my hands and helped me to kick a soccer ball around the house. When I was younger, I always wanted to do exactly what Liz was doing. Because she played soccer, so did I. Liz is one of the strongest women that I know. So, for me to be good at soccer, was to be as strong as she was. My love for soccer started with my sister but it soon took on its own meaning in my life.

Soccer was one of the first sports that I learned to play and I was a decent player because was naturally very fast. Growing up I was constantly racing the boys. At high school, I would stay after practice and race the members of the boys’ soccer team. It was always so funny to see the looks on their faces when I beat them! I played competitively up through high school but switched to track as a top flight athlete for Boston College. But even though I was dedicating myself to a new sport, soccer has always meant more to me.

It was while I was at Boston College that I began to realize that the playing field was not equal. I witnessed teammates and fellow female athletes struggle to master their sport and battle with the idea of femininity. I, and all of my teammates struggled to excel at our sport while maintaining high self-esteem and a positive body image.

The way that women are portrayed in the media makes it difficult for athletic girls to feel beautiful. The media is so much more likely to focus on a female athlete’s appearance than a male athlete. Soccer taught me how to loose with humility, work as a member of a team, lead my peers, and have confidence in myself.  Sport has also helped me to view myself as strong and be happy with being strong. I am taking on this challenge to prove to others that being strong is feminine and beautiful!

At this time in my life, equality means that no matter what your race, gender, status or background you are able to achieve at the same level as those who are of equal skills as you. Now I am an elementary school teacher with the goal of becoming a youth soccer coach. I involve my students in the journey up Mount Kilimanjaro and hope to open up their minds to the inequalities that exist in our society. I hope that I can show them that they can stand up for a cause they believe in, that they can make a difference and that they will obtain careers based upon their skills and not their backgrounds. I especially hope to empower the young girls I teach and coach to be strong and confident in themselves.

It is my hope that the students that I will teach and coach from here on will learn from my journey and realize that their actions and voices matter. My goal is to empower my students and fellow educators to pursue their passions - and to believe that to be feminine is to be strong.

Help Jacqui get to the top! Support her and her teammates here: https://www.gofundme.com/equalplayingfield

Referee Profile | Jacqui Hurford (Née Melksham), Australia

Jacqui joins us from Australia and is managing our referees squad! A professional referee she officiated the opening match at the 2011 World Cup in the Olympic Stadium in Berlin with a crowd of 74 000! Here she tells us what it’s been like as a woman in black and why she is climbing Mt Kilimanjaro to break a world record.

If you would like to sponsor Jacqui to help her inspire new generations of female referees please visit: https://www.mycause.com.au/page/146697/help-jacqui-get-to-kilimanjaro

When I saw a game of football for the first time aged 9, let’s just say it was love at first sight, I was hooked. By the following week I had my $2 second-hand boots on though I can still recall the coach’s first words to me: ‘If girls want to play football, they have to play in the backline’!

As a young female referee coming through the ranks of local football, there was a constant battle with the male players and the spectators. Essentially, they thought that a woman’s place was either in the kitchen or between a man’s legs. It takes strong will and a thick skin to deal with this week in, week out. Some battles you win, some you may lose. But it’s the love of the game that keeps me coming back.

I grew up in a single parent family. My mother is my biggest inspiration and the strongest person I know. From her I learnt how to be strong, stand on my own two feet, fight for what I believe in and hard work.

But I had really been struggling of late whether to continue my journey in this beautiful sport. Meeting like-minded women through Equal Playing Field showed me that I was not alone in the everyday fight for equality.

The main issue women officials have is similar to players - simply making a living. There is one full-time elite referee coach but he is dedicated to training the male referees. Meanwhile I have done that same role for the last two seasons with only a small amount of remuneration. I am essentially a volunteer. I am hoping that will change for the next season.

Equality for me is getting the same recognition, remuneration and respect that the men do at all levels. It will be a great day when we are all recognized as football players, referees, coaches etc. and gender does not come into it.

I have been lucky enough to see a lot of the world through football, with lots of laughs, adventures and new experiences along the way. I have met many fantastic people who have enriched my life in many ways. I hope when I instruct, coach and assess, I inspire the girls/women around me to be the best they can be. If I want change in this sport, it starts with me and I hope that has a domino effect on others.

Want to know more about Jacqui? See this interview with Football Brisbane https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4d4moRT7jdA

Jasmine Henderson, USA joins the Equal Playing Field squad

Jasmine joins us from Los Angeles, California, where she most recently played for current National Champions, Santa Clara Blue Heat, and previously in Brazil. She tells us here what role soccer has played in her life and what she wants for her four-year-old son Paul. If you’d like to sponsor Jasmine and help her break a world record, please visit https://www.climbingmountpossible.com/

I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California, and can still remember the look on my parents’ faces when, at 5 years old, I told them I wanted to play soccer, just like my older brother. I was deep into Barbies, the color pink and my mother’s make-up at the time.

I always enjoyed playing with the boys. But even though as I was as good as them, it was never okay in the yard to get beat by me. Many years later my second ACL injury happened at a co-ed tournament when a man wanted pay-back for when I’d beasted him off the ball. He fouled me hard. I cried. But not because of the pain. I cried that because of his hurt ego, I would be out of the game for 6-9 months with another road to recovery ahead. I was 22.

On the field, I get a window into who I truly am and can take that into any area of my life.

I’ve had many setbacks and my dreams have often cracked. It took me a while to remember the power I have within. I just needed to remember to believe.

Soccer absolutely changed my life. With soccer, I got to really see who I am and chisel away at myself to reveal what else is available. It has taught me so many life lessons. On the field, I get a window into who I truly am and can take that into any area of my life.

My family is amazing. They are and have always been so supportive. On the other hand, guys I have dated haven’t supported me when I’ve gone through selection processes or tried to pursue my career, ending things when I said that I wanted to play professionally or take it to the next level.

I have experienced adversity in sport, but even more so in becoming a single mother. I have experienced and witnessed the immense responsibility that is placed on a woman simply because she is the vessel carrying the child. My four-year-old son, Paul changed my life for the better in every way. Yet there were things that I had to go through and that many women go through that can cause us to question our worth or value.

I want my son Paul, who has autism, to live a life where he sees that ANYTHING is possible, no matter who you are, where you came from or what your current situation is. Anything is possible at any moment. I would love to pass on that my label as a “single mom,” as a “woman,” as an “American,” as a “mixed-raced” person or as a “soccer player” doesn’t define me. I am limitless, and so is he.

Climbing up this mountain and breaking this world record might be the inspiration that someone, male or female, boy or girl, is seeking so that they can climb their own mountain in life and do things they thought, or were told were impossible. It also shows what is possible when we are united – united as women and united as a people.

Want to sponsor Jasmine and help her break a world record? Sponsor her here: https://www.climbingmountpossible.com/

Player Profile | Josefina Martorell, Argentina

Meet Josefina Martorell from Buenos Aires in Argentina. At the age of fifteen she was playing football professionally and since then has played in many different countries, from the US to Congo to Niger to Spain to Afghanistan - wherever she was living at the time. She is part of an organisation called Futbol Militante, where women occupy public spaces usually reserved for men, to play football. They have football programmes in place for boys and girls as young as 3!

I grew up in Buenos Aires, the capital city of Argentina. I had a very happy childhood playing lots of sports, always encouraged by my parents. My father would always ask me how many goals I scored at a tournament or at a game. If I said “four” he’d ask “why not five??”. It became a bit of a joke between us.

But even though girls are encouraged to play sports here when they are young, that falls away when they get older. When I grew a bit older the boys started calling me “marimacho” (tomboy). It made me stop playing with them - but it didn’t stop me playing.

I play football because I wouldn’t be myself if I wasn’t.

Equality is a very big question in an undefined time. Sport helps - in some way - tear down the walls of current social norms. Sport helps strengthen women and girls' self-esteem and helps challenge gender stereotypes that still block women from participating fully in social, professional and public life. Being naive I have the hope that we will soon reach equality in legal, economic, social and cultural terms, but being more realistic I simply hope that in Argentina, the levels of domestic violence decline; a woman is murdered every thirty hours here.

When I was nineteen I went travelling by myself across South America.  It was then that I realised my gender carried specific dangers – dangers to my life and dangers to my body. One particularly bad, dangerous experience happened with a man I met by chance. It was an experience unfortunately shared by many of my female friends so I didn’t make much of it. Years later I lived in the Democratic Republic of Congo where women experience many daily threats and fears; about 48 women are raped in DRC every hour. I realised that despite our cultural differences, as women, we shared specific experiences that made me feel close to them.

Climbing this mountain means a lot to me. Climbing this mountain represents the long struggle of women to realise their goals. Sports help make the fight for women’s empowerment a reality – if they can participate in sport, they can participate in any sphere of life they choose. I want to push myself beyond new boundaries – if I can accomplish this feat, it means I can accomplish many important things with my life.

Football plays a very important role in my life.  Through football I met some of my best friends and I even met my partner. I cannot imagine myself away from football for a long time. If a ball is rolling I am down for another match!

Do you want to sponsor Josefina and help her break a world record? Sponsor her here:

https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/Josefina-Mount-Kili?utm_id=107&utm_term=YQ9bMKBW8

Player Profile | Introducing Esraa Awad, Egypt

Esraa joins the Equal Playing Field squad from Egypt. Esraa has played professionally since the age of 15 and was named Egyptian Footballer of the Year in 2010 with four Premier League titles under her belt. She has represented Egypt at the national level and participated in the African Cup of Nations last year. Here she tells us why she’s still fighting to level the playing field.

Want to help Esraa break a world record? Sponsor her here: https://www.gofundme.com/equal-playing-field-kilimanjaro

I was born and raised in Kuwait and was only 4 years old when I started to play football. When I was 12 I captained the boys football team - which was not easy. The boys on the team did not like a girl captaining the team. They only accepted me when I proved myself to be one of the best. I learned from a very young age that I will face a lot of obstacles being a girl - a girl who not only plays football, but a girl who actually plays better than a lot of boys too. But this just gave me more strength to carry on and made me understand that if I do not believe in myself than no one will.

I often see comments on social media telling me to “'go back to the kitchen". Everyone is starting to wonder when I will get married. Nine times out of ten interviewers will ask me if I’m not married because I play football.

Football is my passion. When I play, I feel free and that there are no limits.

The first time I played for the national team I felt like I was on the top of the world. It was something I dreamed of since I was 8 years old - a dream come true for me. My family was so proud and from that moment on football (for them and for me) went to a whole new level. We have many years of frustration because as a national team we haven't achieved much yet, but the highlight of my career was beating the Ivory Coast and qualifying for the African Cup of Nations for the first time in 18 years. Years of fighting finally paid off.

“Playing football as a Middle Eastern woman is - in and of itself - an act of advocacy”.

The key to making changes possible is for all women to fight for the same goal and not give up. One day, there will be equality. My family has always been very supportive. My father and my older brother were always proud of me and how talented I was and helped me get better. My sisters and my mother were also very supportive and are incredible advocates for women’s rights themselves.  I am climbing to honor the memory of my late sister, Nouran. She passed away just a couple of months ago. She always believed in me, and always encouraged me. My mother brought us up to make the best out of anything that comes our way and after this tragedy, I have made the choice to come out of this  as a stronger woman and a better human being. Climbing this mountain with other exceptional women will be a stepping stone in recovering from my grief.

Want to help Esraa break a world record? Sponsor her here: https://www.gofundme.com/equal-playing-field-kilimanjaro

Opportunity knocks - Including behind the scenes

One of the reasons we are taking on a world record here at Equal Playing Field is to call for an increase in sporting opportunities and access for women and girls. But access and opportunities in sport relate as much to sitting in the boardroom as they do to stepping out on the pitch. Off the pitch, women are frequently side-lined from decision-making roles in sporting bodies whether on a local or international level. We believe that diversifying boards would make for much more inclusive decisions relating to for example, how to allocate budgets; would generate better strategies for growing the game beyond existing demographics; and would ensure “equality” is paid more than just lip-service.

And so, it’s with pleasure we congratulate Women in Sport, in the UK on winning a major campaign battle. From April this year all publicly funded sports governing bodies must adhere to a minimum threshold of 30% gender diversity to receive public funding.

Nevertheless (to borrow the battle cry that Senator Jeff Sessions inadvertently created when silencing US Senator Elizabeth Warren back in February 2017) Women in Sport are persisting. Their new campaign seeks now to go “Beyond 30%”. Having found that the percentage of women on boards has stagnated at 30%, they are now focusing their attention on senior leadership roles (the percentage of which are taken by women having actually dropped since 2014) as well as establishing healthy leadership development channels from the lowest rungs to the top. Indeed, the lack of a “sustainable pipeline of female leadership talent within sport” is one of the three persistent problems that Women in Sport identified as inhibiting progress.

Sadly, of the 68 national governing bodies, the Football Association (FA) has the third lowest percentage of female non-executive directors – only worse than the Angling Trust and the British Taekwondo Council. That is not acceptable for a sport with such massive appeal to women and girls and one with such aspirations for growth.  Indeed, the FA has just launched a brand new, very welcome strategy to double the number of girls and women taking part in football by 2020 (a strategy heavily influenced by the presence of Sue Campbell in a senior FA leadership role). The FA would now do well to get more women into those leadership development channels and in a wide variety of decision-making roles as soon as possible so that they can best better understand exactly how to do just that.