Whoever said sports is for boys has clearly never been to the UAE’s largest grassroots football academy, IFA, where girls rule the roost this season.
The 2002 British movie Bend it like Beckham, which told the story of a talented 18-year-old girl whose strict parents wouldn’t allow her to play her beloved sport, inspired a whole new generation of female football players. It might feel like a lifetime ago, but girls have been steadily succeeding in traditionally male-dominated sports ever since. And Dubai’s sporting youth scene is fast catching on.
IFA, the largest grassroots football academy in the UAE, has just announced the launch of its first full training programme for girls, delivered by FA-qualified coaches.
Head of girls’ football at IFA, Jessica Prelle, says, “This an exciting time for girls’ football and we are proud to be at the forefront.”
IFA has a group of 20 girls aged four to 12 years, from beginners to experienced players. “Focus lies on high-quality individual and small group development in all areas of the game such as passing, dribbling, shooting, as well as key tactical aspects,” Prelle explains. “We have been surprised by the inquiries for four- to five-year-old girls and it’s been fantastic to get them on the pitch at such a young age!”
Events like the Women’s World Cup and the Olympics have also increased respect for the sport globally, says Prelle, and the UAE FA and the Women’s Football Committee are breaking down barriers and helping the sport really flourish in the UAE. “It is important to give the girls goals and for the first time now, girls are seeing where it can all lead here.
“Too many young people drop out of a programme when they turn 17 or 18, however, with us, they work towards US university scholarships or keep going on with a locally competitive and successful team with our Ladies League.”
Women’s rugby has also been making headlines of its own with the Women’s Rugby Sevens Series. Rugby-focused Dubai Warriors are actively recruiting girls aged nine to 15 for their all-female squad down at Dubai Sports City, as the emirate gears up for the mighty Dubai Rugby Sevens series next month. Warriors girls’ coach, Mel Nichols, says, “We had a great response to the new season, with 12 new girl sign-ups.” Now, Nichols has high hopes for the future of girls’ rugby in the UAE. “The Rio Olympics was great marketing for the sport and has inspired us more than ever. We have tournaments set for the remainder of season and our team is looking strong!”By Carolyne Allmark
Time Out Dubai,