“My love affair” Lisa Handy, UK – based in UAE, joins the Equal Playing Field squad

Meet Lisa Handy, former winger at Sheffield United, Sheffield Ladies FC and Wednesday Reserves, in the UK. An avid athlete across a range of sports, here Lisa tells us why football features so highly and what climbing Mt Kilimanjaro means to her.

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

  

I’ve always been passionate about sport. By the age of 15 I was at school doing my GCSEs, dancing in shows across the UK and working three jobs to pay for my lessons and to buy equipment. I began working at a local sports centre as soon as I could and even set up my own basketball and football coaching programmes.  Football still plays a huge role in my life, as a Physical Education teacher, coach, player and avid supporter.

 

I play football for the love of the game. I play football for the physical, mental and social benefits it provides. I play it to escape and to learn and develop every day. It’s taught me to strive to be more than I ever thought was possible. Football taught me to love and accept everybody and it taught me to believe that anything was possible.

 

I have a huge and supportive family, although we’re scattered across the UK which is where I grew up, America and the Dominican Republic. But my mother was a single mother with five children so there wasn’t a lot of spare money. I’ve been working since the age of 12 to fund my passion.

 

I’ve always been aware of gender bias in sport, even though it never bothered me on a personal level. But I think that through my work I have also been able to help to break down barriers and perceptions of women in sport at a local, regional and sometimes even national level.

 

My proudest moments have not necessarily come through my own or my team achievements.  Instead it’s been in the precious moments I've shared through teaching and coaching; watching a young person develop in confidence through being part of a team, feeling a sense of belonging and mastering a new skill. Coaching coaches in the US and UK to ensure whole communities of footballers and clubs could develop and progress with a better knowledge and understanding of the beautiful game. The last 3 years I have suffered a couple of injuries through football, a broken wrist and a cracked cheekbone, but every time a young person smiles because of a successful challenge, goal scored or skill mastered, I am reminded why my love affair with football still exists.

 

I’m climbing Kilimanjaro because I believe that sporting prowess is sporting prowess, skill is skill, passion is passion and no matter what gender you are, what country you’re from or which sport you’re involved in, this should not only be recognized but celebrated. I may not see immediate change that will affect me directly in my lifetime. But I – we – will be making a difference for the next generation of women.

 

 

To support Lisa 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

“I eat, sleep and breathe refereeing.” Meet Vikki Allan, FIFA Assistant Referee from Scotland, joining Equal Playing Field up Mt Kili!

Youth Ambassador for refereeing in Scotland Vicki Allan took her first exam in response to being told women’ don’t referee. Eight years on, she’s a full FIFA official – and climbing Mt Kilimanjaro to open up more opportunities for women and girls to referee the game they love!

 

I grew up in Edinburgh, Scotland. My mum worked for a football club and my Dad was a football referee. I didn’t really ever play football as I wasn’t very good but when I turned 16 I mentioned to my friend that I was eligible to sit the referee course. Their reply, “but women don’t referee” made me determined to pass the course and prove them wrong! I didn’t ever think I would continue on afterwards, but here we are eight years on!

 

I sat the referee course in 2009 and have progressed through the leagues now to become a FIFA Assistant. It’s my first year with FIFA so I hope to continue to improve and be the best I can be. It plays a massive role when I’m not in my full time job; I eat, sleep and breathe refereeing. I want to create a better environment for younger referees in the future and to help them grow. This is why I also have the women’s support role in my local association and am the Youth Ambassador for refereeing in Scotland!

 

When I began refereeing it was still really unusual to have female referees refereeing men’s matches. Every time I showed up to a ground I was stared at, given a broom cupboard to get changed in as there were no female changing rooms and had sexist comments shouted at me. However, after 10-15 minutes on the pitch I was treated just like everyone else and that’s when I realised I need to get myself out there and show people that we can do it too!

 

People are starting to ‘get used to’ female refs in Scotland, but I wouldn’t say they see us as equals quite yet. One tiny error and immediately you get the “Get back to the kitchen” judgements.

 

I have quite a small family and do think that they were shocked when I asked to referee. My Dad, as a referee himself was very shocked but he has been really supportive - even if he is my toughest critic!

 

Equality for me means being offered the same opportunity as men. I don’t want for us to succeed easier because we are women - I want us to earn it just as equally as the men through being offered the same opportunities.

 

Football has kept me fit and allowed me to make friends all over the world. I’m a stronger and more determined individual as a result of football - and I want others to be able to experience this too. As the Youth Ambassador for refereeing in Scotland one of my main goals over the next two years is to help recruit and retain more female referees. I hope that by taking part in this World Record attempt I can make that happen!

 

To support the Equal Playing Field players and find out more please visit http://equalplayingfield.com

 

“Football - It’s who I am” Maja Åström, Sweden

Meet our Swedish goalkeeper, Maja Åström! She’ll be hoping to keep a clean sheet here and make her daughters proud by climbing Mt Kilimanjaro to add her voice to the call for an equal playing field.

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

 

I grew up in the northern part of Sweden and was handed a ball to play with before I was even walking. My mum and dad were never very interested in sports but they let me play, day and night, as long as I also managed school. I’ve always had my parents’ support - but they also never pushed me. Putting all my spare time into football was all driven by my inner passion. My younger sister was also in love with the sport and represented Sweden for youth national teams.

 

I played in the highest league in Sweden from 2000 to 2012 winning the Swedish nationals (2004, 20012) and playing in the finals of the UEFA cup with Djurgården/Älvsjö 2005. My proudest moment in football, now that I look back, is the finals in the Swedish Cup 2004 where I saved a one on one in extra time, securing the win and with that the double (league and cup). I’ve also represented Sweden in a number of games, but I don’t think any of them will be able to compare to the game ahead of us.  

 

It’s impossible to know what my life would have been like without football. The people, the experience, the challenges; it’s who I am, and not a day goes by without me using what football gave me.

The gender discrimination I faced has never been about whether or not I would be able to play. Sweden is a country where equality between genders is big on the political agenda, but during the time when I was playing, there has always been this debate about women’s football and the comparison to men. From a media point of view, the coverage on women’s football is good, but the angle is always less about sport and more about everything else. When meeting new people, the discussion almost always moved immediately to how the game compares to the men’s. People could never think or discuss or talk or relate to the idea of women playing football in its own right. I’ve witnessed a lot of progress during the years I played, but the field is still not equal.

 

I think that fighting for equality is a fight that will never be won. Not completely. Sweden is one of the most equal societies in the world, but we still have to fight every day, even if the fights are small.

 

I now have three daughters, aged 5, 7 and almost 9. I am so happy that we live in a part of the world where them being girls is not an obstacle. They can’t comprehend the fact that there are girls out there in the world that are not allowed to do the things boys their age do. I hope that they one day will understand what this all means and that I will make them proud. Right now they are more focused on the world record – not the cause. I’m proud of doing this, trying to make a change, if not for my own kids, then for someone else’s.

 

#MyMountain is a great tagline for us.  It works for all the big and small things in our everyday lives that we have to conquer. It also means a challenge but something that is beatable - even if it will take time, strength, stamina, patients and timing. Never impossible, just really tough (and fun)!   

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

Equal Playing Field welcomes Discover Football’s support ahead of World Record attempt

Equal Playing Field and Discover Football share joint mission to promote women’s equality in sport

Equal Playing Field is grateful to receive support from Discover Football ahead of their World Record attempt. Discover Football see football as a way to empower women and promote intercultural understanding. Several of Equal Playing Field’s squad members have played for or participated in Discover Football’s international exchanges, conferences and tournaments where women and girls build skills and share knowledge. Their work aligns with Equal Playing Field’s initiative to promote opportunity, equality and respect for women and girls who seek to play, compete, coach and work in football. Find out more about Discover Football here.

Erin Blankenship of Equal Playing Field said “We are thrilled to have Discover Football as supporting partners and it's an honour to have some of their alumni amongst our team. DF have long been contributing to and leading on the mission to promote equality through football for women and girls from all corners of the world, and we are elated to combine forces and voices to ramp up the volume.”

Dana Rösiger of Discover Football said “We are thrilled to be part of this unique football game on the top of Kilimanjaro and worldwide project. Women’s football is an ongoing battle for equality. Some progress has been made but recent events show there's still a long way to go. I believe that the journey to and the game on the top of this mountain will create bonds and a sense of unity, which will mark another milestone. Not just setting a world record but demonstrating solidarity, and building a collective voice that will help protect the rights of female players worldwide.”

For more information on the Equal Playing Field initiative, please see www.equalplayingfield.com

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Player Profile | Katie Donegan, England

Meet Katie Donegan, defender with Basingstoke Town LFC in southern England. Katie describes how important football has been to her through life and how it keeps pulling her back! She also tells us how she wants others to have the same opportunities as she has had.

Katie is helping fundraise to ensure fellow athlete Josefina Martorell from Argentina can join us on the mountain. If you would like to help Katie and Josefina, please donate here: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/Josefina-Mount-Kili

 

I grew up on the outskirts of London with two older brothers.  Whatever my brothers did I wanted to do too and I started playing football because my eldest brother did. My Dad was especially supportive and helped me find a local girls team to play in when I was about 8. My Dad has always been my biggest fan and he still comes to watch me play a couple of decades later! He has been to about 90% of my games throughout my career and I feel so lucky that I have had him supporting me all the way.

 

I played any and all sports going when I was growing up. I played cricket briefly but that clashed with football and I had to make a choice and football won! Football is by far my favourite sport though and the only one I play now.

 

Football has helped me through some tough times, I find it a great way to de-stress and switch off from the rest of the world.  Nothing else matters when you’re out there on the pitch with your teammates.  I am exceptionally fortunate with all the opportunities and support I’ve had.

 

My 2005/06 season when I was playing for Barnet was my highlight – we won the treble – the league, the league cup and the Middlesex Cup.  We also made it to the last 16 of the FA cup where we met Liverpool and narrowly lost 3-2 having gone ahead twice in the game! My proudest moment in football was being awarded player of the season in such a successful season and in such a strong team. It felt great to be recognised and to know I made a big difference to the team.

 

I stopped playing when I started working full time as life simply got in the way. But something pulled me back 8 years later. I came back, thinking “I’m getting older, I’ll give it one more year and see what happens”. I was 31 at the time. We have a 50 year-old in our team. That put things into perspective - and now I realise I still have lots to give! I play for my local club Basingstoke Town and we’re doing really well – promoted last year, though a harder season this year.

 

I hope that women in other countries get the kind of opportunities that I have here in the UK. I realise I am fortunate with all the opportunities I’ve had to play sport as a woman and there are women in other countries that don’t get that kind of support and are actively discouraged from playing. I have never experienced that personally and I want all women to have that same experience.

 

I’ve never been told I can’t play and it shocks me that women are actively discouraged from playing sport in other countries.  I want girls and women all over the world to have the same opportunities that I’ve had here in the UK. I feel really lucky that I have never had to overcome any kind of adversity as a result of being female. I can’t wait to climb the mountain in June and hopefully inspire other girls and women to get involved with sport in general - and football in particular.

To support Katie and Josefina climb Mt Kilimanjaro and support their efforts to be inspirations to others, please visit https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/Josefina-Mount-Kili

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

PARK Social Soccer Co to provide balls to select Equal Playing Field sports clinics

PRESS RELEASE

Company’s ethos supports diversity and universality of the beautiful game

Melbourne | May 24 2017

Equal Playing Field is grateful to receive latest in-kind support from Australian/US company PARK Social Soccer Co. PARK believes that “passion is universal, but opportunity is not” and is keen to ensure that all children around the world have the opportunity to play soccer. Equal Playing Field is delighted to have PARK’s support. PARK will supply training balls to our Zambian and South African clinics that will take place in the weeks after the attempt to break the record for the highest altitude football game ever played – near the top of MT Kilimanjaro. Find out more about PARK here.

Sam Davy of PARK said of the partnership "Sometimes, something as simple as a soccer ball can change a kid’s life.  Soccer has proven itself as the global game that unites diverse cultures and creates hope and opportunity for the world’s most marginalised. We are proud to support Equal Playing Field’s mission to ensure no girl misses out on the opportunity to pick up a ball and play”

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

Equal Playing Field players will sport Zaini hats and headbands!

PRESS RELEASE

Zaini hats will keep heads warm as players climb Mt Kilimanjaro during world record attempt in June.

London/Amman/Melbourne | May 24 2017

 

Equal Playing Field is grateful to receive in-kind support from UK company Zaini –  who will keep heads warm during our world record attempt! Find out more about Zaini here.

Miranda Harper of Zaini said “Zaini Hats are thrilled to be supporting the Equal Playing Field girls on their mission to Mount Kilimanjaro. We wish you all the very best on such an epic adventure and hope our beanies and headbands keep your warm, and fashionable, all the way up! Looking forward to following your journey every step of the way. Best of luck from us all at Zaini Hats.”

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

Equal Playing Field grateful to Tesalate for providing sports towels for epic trip

PRESS RELEASE

Players will use Tesalate towels during trek up Mt Kilimanjaro during world record attempt in June.

London/Amman/Melbourne | May 24 2017

 

Equal Playing Field is grateful to receive in-kind support from Australian company Tesalate –  who will provide towels for the Equal Playing Field squad as they attempt to break a world record up Mt Kilimanajro! Find out more about Tesalate here.

Jacky, Co-founder of Tesalate said "Women's sport has been under-supported because we have constantly been reinforced that this is a man's domain. This is ludicrous. Sport is more than kicking a ball around. It's about teamwork, passion, and most importantly ambition.  By encouraging females in sport, we are telling the world females too can be competitive and perform at the highest level. We're proud to support Equal Playing Field, and with this world record, they will take sport to a level it's never been before."

 

 

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

Equal Playing Field proud to be sponsored by Pitchero!

PRESS RELEASE

Pitchero “thrilled” to support the Equal Playing Field squad break a world record for the highest altitude football game ever played

London/Amman/Melbourne | May 24 2017

Equal Playing Field is grateful to receive sponsorship from UK company Pitchero, a global sports network that provides clubs, players, coaches and officials with everything they need to run their club online. Pitchero powers more than 12,000 clubs through their websites and club apps making team management as simple as possible so their 5 million users can spend more time playing and enjoying sport, and less time in the paperwork! Find out more about Pitchero here.

 

Pitchero’s Marketing Manager Jennifer Armstrong said “We are thrilled to be sponsoring such a forward thinking and unique event. Equal Playing Field not only represents the power of sports to bring people together it showcases women’s football to a fantastic standard while bringing attention to an incredibly important issue. We will be supporting the team and their mission all the way and will be cheering them on as they undertake this incredible feat.”

 

Equal Playing Field will be taking Pitchero’s instant match video app, Pitchero Play, with them to Tanzania. Pitchero Play allows clubs to simply record and share 30 second match highlights instantly so Equal Playing Field will be sure to capture the action of the game from 18,871 feet.

 

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

Player Profile | Paige Uttley, USA

Meet Paige Uttley, a Centre Back from California in the US. Here Paige describes why she plays football and what climbing Mt Kilimanjaro with the Equal Playing Field squad means to her.

To support Paige please visit https://www.youcaring.com/paigeuttleyandtheequalplayingfieldteam-799662  

 

I’ve been playing football since I was six. My older sister had started playing a year earlier and I decided it looked like fun. It was a co-ed team and I loved the fact that I could not only keep up with, but beat the boys. I’ve always preferred team sports - I used to joke at university that my team was my sorority. Most of my oldest friends are people I played sports with.

 

I tried every sport I could - football, basketball, track and field, volleyball, tennis, snowboarding. I even tried ballet and gymnastics, although it was quickly clear that I was too clumsy for these! But sports were a great way to work off my energy and make friends. My family were really supportive - I think we were at football tournaments every weekend of my childhood. My dad was my number one fan.

 

By the time I was 14, my team was playing all over the Western United States. I was also in the Northern California Olympic Development Program. My proudest moment in soccer was winning the
California State Cup. I played at university and after graduating I joined a local women’s club in London. Now I’m back in the US, I play purely for fun. I play on pick up teams, indoor teams, women’s teams and co-ed teams. I am not as good as I was! But I still love the comradery, the friendships, the exercise, and both the mental and physical release that football provides.

 

When I play football I don’t have to worry about work or bills or expectations, I just have to play. It brings me together with those I love and gives us something to share - my husband and I play football together, my friends and I play football together.

 

Can you believe people would say ‘sorry you only have girls’ to my dad! Luckily he would immediately respond ‘I’m not!’. But it’s still outrageous that people would even think that, let alone say it. I work in the sciences, which are still very male dominated. In my first job after university I had a colleague who one day refused to call me by my name but instead only referred to me as ‘baby’! Women do need men to stand up and speak up for them. But we also need to stand together. That’s why I’m climbing Kili.

 

To support Paige please visit https://www.youcaring.com/paigeuttleyandtheequalplayingfieldteam-799662

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

Player Profile | Sasha Andrews, Canada

Sasha Andrews.jpg

Meet Sasha Andrews from Canada. Seasoned Canadian women’s national team representative with three world cups under her belt, here she tells us how football has been the golden thread of her life, and why “giving back” makes up so much of life right now.

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

 

I grew up in Edmonton, Alberta in Canada and had a dream to be like my dad - and that meant soccer. I played with my two brothers in the backyard barefoot - we must have ruined my mother's garden and my father's fence over and over again as soccer never stopped. I soon joined the boys’ team coached by my dad and that is where a little seed was planted in me that I had to water.

I play football because football chose me. My dream to be a pro came sooner than I thought, when I was selected to represent Canada at 15 years old and it continued - with the seniors, through college, and then in professional leagues around the globe.

 

Football is my tool, it is my passion, it runs through my life. I have played 30 years, been to 3 world cups, 1 Olympics, I’ve played in Norway, Australia, Sweden and Iceland and here in North America. I got a full Division 1 scholarship and soccer paved that way for me to be educated with 2 degrees. My grandmother still follows soccer to this day - she thinks she might still see me on TV!

To play for Canada was a childhood dream and when I got to be on national duty for the first time and feel our Canada soccer logo on my chest I was so honored to be representing my country and my family on a world stage. From that day on in 1999 until 2011 I felt the fire and pride I had for my country. My first World Cup was 2002 - I scored the winning penalty in penalty shoot-out against Brazil putting us into our very first ever World Cup final. It was in my home town so I became the hero in front of 50-60,000 fans. It still gives me chills. My brother who passed as well as my other brother Dorian were there – wearing a shirt with my pic on it saying “Proud brothers of Sasha Andrews”. A memory for life!

Today I still play with men but encounter the same story - the guys never pass to me until I prove myself. The discrimination is frustrating because it is consistent. I joined a men's league here in California. I was just as good as the guys, but it was so trying to hear the constant put downs, the constant sexist talk. One day, a ref refused to officiate the game if I was on the pitch. Even though my team stuck up for me I wasn’t allowed to play. The league later threatened my team with being kicked out if they carried on fielding me.

 

In the end, they won. I was banned.

 

Later, I joined a woman’s team just to play and enjoy being the little girl that originally that fell in love with game. Soon I started hearing that I was “too good” and should “go back to my own kind”. I was later kicked out –I got an emailing telling me the league wouldn’t allow pros to play.

 

In the end, they won. I was banned.

 

So – how will we realize equality if there is so much judgement and fear and distrust on both sides?


Equality to me is living beyond the edge of discrimination, judgment and fear to be whoever you are all the time. When you ask a child whose mind is at its purist, there are no ethnic, social, economic, religious, or cultural boundaries. Sport creates bridges and breaks down barriers. Sport teaches you teamwork, empathy and respect, it creates a strong sense of morality and appreciation for differences and community. If we can use sport to get to this place, we will shine - we will give hope where there is despair and love where there is hate. I believe in giving back and now my life is about that. I am a PE teacher where I spread my love for the game and its deeply rooted life lessons to my kids.

 

 

Despite all the incredible experiences I have had over 30 years of playing soccer, climbing this mountain and breaking a world record is paramount to anything I have accomplished in my career. Being part of this project for me is the living light of my universe right now, as a soccer player but also as a world citizen.

 

The ball is shaped like the world and the game makes the world go round. Football is equality because anyone can play - all you need is one ball.

 

To support Sasha and the other Equal Playing Field players, please visit http://equalplayingfield.com/donate/ To find out more about the challenge, please go to www.equalplayingfield.com

Coach Profile | Kim Smith, USA

Meet one of our coaches Kim Smith, who was selected for the US U-19National Team Pool, played abroad in the L League in Japan, Bundesliga in Germany and in the US in the W-League for the Raleigh Wings and Sacramento Storm.  She tells us the powerful sense of responsibility she has as a coach of teenage girls and why, in her words, “Football saved my life”.

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

 

Football gave me an ineffable sense of freedom, joy and connectivity.

I grew up in a military family, so we moved every one or two 2 years. I lived in Germany, Korea and six states within the US by the time I graduated high school. Sport was the only real constant in my life and enabled me to fit in and connect with a new environment and my peers.  Although I played all sports, I fell in love with soccer at the age of 6 and have been playing ever since. 

I played at the U-19 national team level in the US, then continued on to play at the University of Virginia.  When I graduated, I wanted to continue to play football. At that time, there wasn’t a professional league in the US for women, so I traveled overseas to play in the L-League in Honjo, Japan (FC Wins). Coincidentally, they trained on a dirt field just like the dirt fields I played on as a teenager in Korea. The pay was good, but the level was lower than what I expected, the town, small and isolated.

Later I played for FC Saarbrucken in the Bundesliga in Germany and the pay was just enough to live on. The level of play was great, but I had to advocate for my pay as it didn’t come regularly, which created challenges that affected my quality of play. In hindsight, it was ironic that I was playing in state-of-the-art Bundesliga stadiums, but could only afford to eat ketchup and pasta.

The teams I played on provided me with incredible experiences and a global perspective - but seeing the disparity in pay and resources between the men and women challenged my professional value and sustainability in a sport I loved.

I have been a high school coach in Los Angeles for the past 12 years and am currently at The Archer School for Girls in Los Angeles. Our mission is to empower future female leaders and I see this challenge as an opportunity to be an example to my players. This experience I can bring to our training field, where I get to guide and inspire them to discover their voices, tap into their strengths, push their limits, and work together to create change and greater opportunity for themselves and those following close behind.

I also have two nieces who are under the age of 10 and play football. I would love nothing more than to make the bridge wider for them and the path smoother. My hope is that girls have the opportunity to play sports on an equal playing field and be afforded the gift of being a part of a team, experiencing its greatest joys and opportunities.

Football saved my life. Being a shy kid and in a constant state of change, I was able to find my voice on the field.  And in times of struggle and adversity as an adult, it’s the voices I met on the field that have led me to a greater purpose. This is one of the many joys of football:  friendship, connection, and opportunity.

I see this Altitude Football challenge as an opportunity to give back to a sport that continues to enrich my life. Working together with a team of women, I will be stretching my own personal limits and creating awareness for something greater than myself – equality within sport.

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

 

Equal Playing Field grateful to International General Insurance for sponsorship

PRESS RELEASE

London/Amman/Melbourne | June 3 2017

Equal Playing Field welcomes the financial support provided by IGI to support football clinics being run in Jordan after the attempt to break a world record with a soccer match at the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro this month. Players from more than 20 nationalities will step out on a temporary pitch at more than 18,000 ft to play a full 90 minutes FIFA regulation game. To ensure the impact is sustainable, football clinics will be run in more than ten countries around the world after the climb to ensure more women and girls have the opportunity to try out soccer.

Mr. Wasef Jabsheh, IGI CEO & Vice Chairman said “IGI is an equal opportunity employer with a firm conviction to women empowerment. Equal Playing Field challenges gender disparity in sports, and sheds light on the under-support of girls and women in athletics. IGI hopes by sponsoring the Guinness World Record Altitude Football Game on Mt. Kilimanjaro by an all-women team, that it will help to promote equality, respect and opportunity, for female athletes across the globe.” 

Find out more about International General Insurance (IGI) here.

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

Player Profile | Zahra Mahmoodi, Afghanistan

Zahra-Mahmoodi photo3.jpg

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