Sudan has had a contrary relationship with football. It joined FIFA in 1948 and is one of the founding members of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) together with Egypt, Ethiopia and South Africa. The country however does not allow for women to participate in the sport since it adopted Islamic sharia law in 1983.
In fact, in 2012 the Islamic Fiqh Council in Sudan issued a fatwa (religious order) proclaiming that it was forbidden for the country to create a women’s soccer team, regarding it an immoral act. The fatwa was similar to one issued six years previously.
Ahmed Babikir, the coach of the Women’s Challenge Team, Sudan’s only women’s football team, told Al Jazeera in 2015 that Sudan used to have many women’s teams in the past. “We need to go back to that,” he said. “FIFA should not provide the Sudanese Football Association with any funding until they form more women’s teams and support existing ones”.
The religious authority said that any request made by FIFA in this regard is not an excuse to bypass Sharia’s law or grant any exception. Adding that for Sudanese females to travel to play soccer in Africa, Asia and Europe is a breach of Sudanese ethics and values.
Salma Al-Majidi managed to beat the odds by becoming the country’s first female coach. While other women had to abandon aspirations of becoming professional football players Al-Majidi secured the position of coaching Sudanese second league men’s clubs: Al-Nasr, Al-Nahda, Nile Halfa and Al-Mourada.
According to an interview with the AFP she was drawn to coaching when she was 16 watching her younger brother’s school team being coached.
“At the end of every training session, I discussed with him (the coach) the techniques he used to coach the boys,” Al-Majidi said. “He saw I had a knack for coaching… and gave me a chance to work with him”.
On this track she went on to coach the under-13 and under-16 teams of El Hilal club in Omdurman, the twin city of Khartoum. Her dreams were not easily accomplished as she consistently faced opposition from the community and her family.
“Sudan is a community of tribes and some tribes believe that a woman’s role is confined only to her home. There are restrictions on women’s football,” Al-Majidi said, “but I’m determined to succeed”.
Her determination panned out and her coaching skills that were invalidated in the beginning of her career due to her gender were substantiated over time. Two teams she has coached; Nile Halfa and Al-Nahda have topped local leagues and she currently holds the African “B” badge in coaching, which allows her to coach any first league team across the continent.
“I became a coach because there is still no scope for women’s football in Sudan,” said Al-Majidi, who is affectionately called “sister coach” by her team.
She was lauded on BBC Arabic’s 100 inspirational women of the year in 2015 and acknowledged by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) as the first Arab and Sudanese woman to coach a men’s football team in the Arab world.
“There was this one boy who refused to listen,” Al-Majidi, who works full-time and receives a salary equivalent to that of a male coach told AFP. “He told me he belongs to a tribe that believed men should never take orders from women”.
It took months, but he finally accepted her as coach. “Today, he is a fine player”.