Following are excerpts from a TV program on women’s sports in Saudi Arabia, which aired on Al-Arabiya TV on July 8, 2011.
Host: Captain Rima, many viewers are probably wondering how there can possibly be a female Saudi [soccer] captain, when [women’s] sports are not officially recognized in Saudi Arabia. Tell us how you became a captain.
Rima Abdallah [soccer player]: We used to play soccer, and the girls were good at it. At first, we treated it as a hobby, and we would play together in our spare time. During these sessions with my friends, I realized that there was a cadre which it would be a shame to waste, as long as this could be made official and the girls could play at a young age. We decided to tackle this matter head-on and devote ourselves to it, investing all our energies into filling the void in our lives with a hobby that we love. We decided to start training three times a week, each session two or three hours long.
Host: How many players did you have at first?
Rima Abdallah: At first we were just one team.
Host: When was this? In 2006?
Rima Abdallah: It was about six years ago. At first we would play in closed areas behind fences, so nobody would know. At some point, I realized that this must be developed, so I turned to the media to make the authorities see that there are women who have the right to represent the country one day, in a manner pleasing to Allah, in keeping with our traditions and the shari’a. We kept on playing this way. We paid all the expenses out of our own pockets. We did not have our own soccer fields, so we had to rent them. We looked only for secluded soccer fields, so that men would not go there.
About a year ago, a women’s soccer tournament was held in Bahrain, and I’m sad to say that the only team that did not participate was the Saudi team.
Host: Among the Gulf countries?
Rima Abdallah: Among all the Arab countries. Kuwait, Oman, and some other Gulf states participated, as well as Arab countries.
Host: Except Saudi Arabia?
Rima Abdallah: Right. We asked to participate, but because we are not recognized by FIFA or the Saudi Soccer Association, our request was denied.
The entire Saudi people must be made aware of the fact that Saudi women have been ranked as having the highest obesity rate due to immobility. In addition, 94% of Saudi women suffer from diabetes. They tell us there are gyms where women can go, but not every Saudi woman can afford to pay 5,000 or 10,000 riyals in order to train with equipment. Instead, I can engage in a hobby that makes me happy, gives me purpose, and, above all, continuity. I hope with all my heart that one day, I will participate [in a soccer tournament] and raise my country’s flag, in a manner pleasing to Allah. There are Arab women’s teams in which they all play with hijabs and long clothing, which fully covers the body, but does not affect their performance on the field.
Host: What do you wear when you play?
Hadir Sadqa [Basketball player]: If it is a closed court, with only women present, we wear this.
Host: Can you show us… It has no sleeves…
Hadir Sadqa: True, but anyone who wants to wear
Host: What about the bottom part of the costume?
Hadir Sadqa: We wear shorts.
Host: Regular shorts, up to the mid-thigh, right?
Hadir Sadqa: No.
Host: That’s what you wear when you are with women only?
Hadir Sadqa: Yes.
Hadir Sadqa: Down to the knees. The same goes for the Al-Ahli and Al-Hilal clubs.
Host: But only in the company of women.
Hadir Sadqa: But when we appear in the media or when the audience includes men, we wear long white clothes, and dress according to the shari’a, in addition to sports clothes
Host: You wear a hijab?
Hadir Sadqa: Yes.
Host: Like the black one you’re wearing?
Hadir Sadqa: A white one.
Host: What if during the game, your head-covering falls off?
Rima Abdallah: There are special head-coverings, like masks. Our Syrian sisters have head-coverings like masks. Nothing can budge them.
Host: Do the [players’] family members give you any trouble and object?
Rima Abdallah: When it all began, I drew up a document, to any girl who wanted to join Kings United had to get her guardian to sign that he had no objection to his girl being a player in the club. That way, I absolved myself of responsibility and protected myself. As for society as a whole, when we first appeared in public, we were attacked One of the most vehement attacks against me was during a Friday sermon. The entire sermon was about Rima Abdallah as if I were pushing Saudi women towards promiscuity, or something.